WESTFORD — With a Dec. 31, 2024 deadline to allocate the remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds looming, the Select Board has allocated over 70% of the remaining funds dispersed to the town.
Economic Development Consultant funded through ARPA
Among these items, $95,000 was used to fund an economic development consultant.
The funding request from the Economic Development Committee was originally intended to fund a new position, but officials opted to use funds to hire a consultant due to budgetary concerns.
“My concern is what happens when there are no more funds and we have to get this in the budget and if we don’t get this in the budget we would lose the position, said Select Board member Andrea Peraner-Sweet during a June 6 meeting.
Select Board Vice Chair Scott Hazelton added that “laying off a consultant is different from laying off a town employee.”
The service is “designed to end,” and would be designed with “a scope that after two years, we’ve got the information, we’ve got the map, we’ve got the needs of the community,” according to Select Board Chair Tom Clay.
Among surrounding cities and towns such as Chelmsford, Tyngsborough, Carlisle, Lowell, and Billerica, Westford is the only town without a permanent economic development position.
The primary goal of a future position would be to serve as the “single integral point of contact between the Westford business owner and town government,” Economic Development Committee member Alexander Mancuso said during a May 9 Select Board Meeting.
“In my view, Westford could be doing more to both grow its existing businesses and to attract new businesses here in the town,” said Mancuso.
To do so, the committee believes Westford must improve the speed and relevance with which it communicates with its businesses. It must also grow its tax base and adjust its distribution profile to be more sustainable for the long term, a move that “is critical” according to Mancuso.
From 2018 to 2022, Westford’s commercial and industrial tax base fell by eight percent. The tax-base distribution is now split with 88% of property taxes coming from residential properties while just 12% comes from commercial properties.
In comparison, other cities and towns target an 80% residential and 20% commercial split in these areas, according to Mancuso.
There is also a risk of overreliance on residential development within Westford to grow this tax base, which would draw on the town’s limited land resources.
“We’ve got to know that municipalities with which we do business are welcoming of our investment and are going to be in our corner as we seek to drive growth in our cities and towns,” said Mancuso. “Right now, all of Westford’s competing municipalities have an individual, or staff, that serves this purpose. Westford does not.”
Additional projects funded through ARPA
A complete list of recently funded projects can be found below:
- $20,500 was used to fund active assailant training for 2024.
- $20,000 was used to fund a three-year subscription for live captioning for town meetings, including for the Select Board, Planning Board, School Committee, Annual Town Meeting and Special Town Meeting.
- $25,000 was used to fund half of the Community Wellness Coordinator position for a third year. This request was reduced from $50,000.
- $538,393.81 was used to fund a Federal Emergency Management Agency overtime deficit for the Westford Fire Department.
- $16,500 was used purchase to fund firefighting foam.
- $160,000 was used to fund programs to promote equity and social-emotional health for students and staff in Westford Public Schools. Programs include a restorative practices pilot program, a districtwide equity audit and problem-solving training for district leadership.
- $60,000 was used to fund rental, mortgage and utility assistance for FY24 and FY25.
- $7,998 was used to fund network infrastructure, media storage and live remote video transmission for WestfordCAT.
- $14,412 was used to fund a new computer maintenance management system for the Department of Public Works to handle work order requests for public buildings and schools.
- $27,000 was used to fund GIS system upgrades.
- $20,000 was used to fund assistance and remediation with PFAS testing.
- $25,000 was used to fund a redesign of the Town of Westford website.
- $144,000 was used to fund a facilities master plan.
- $22,150 was used to fund poll pads for the Town Clerk.
- $60,000 was used to upgrade all major town systems to two-factor authentication.
Delayed projects, funding
A number of projects were delayed or rejected for ARPA funding — but that does not mean they will not eventually be funded.
For example, $20,500 in funding for active assailant training for FY26 is planned to appear in a later operating budget.
Additionally, $25,000 for the Community Wellness Coordinator position will be funded in a later operating budget as the Select Board works full funding of the position into the town’s budget.
The Health Department, which has requested $75,000 for a Community Health Assessment and aims to develop a Community Improvement Plan was placed on hold.
“Let’s make that a future agenda item to come back and help us understand what the difference is between what we already have and what an excellent data set that would come out of a study like this would be,” Clay said.
$9,600 in supplemental funding for the O’Brien Farm conservation restriction public footbridge did not receive funding, with board members hoping to secure funding through other avenues such as the Community Preservation Commission or a MassTrails grant.
$20,000 for a water main to Camp Nashoba to Camp Cielo at the Stony Brook Conservation Area did not receive funding through ARPA. The project will have to receive funding through the town’s capital budget.
$95,000 for a Townwide Strategic Plan was also placed on hold.
“I want to have a discussion before we go out to bid about exactly what we’re looking for and what we already have,” Peraner-Sweet said.
$175,000 for a Land Use Master Plan update was placed on hold to “scope out phases” of the future study.
A $500,000 contribution to the Health Insurance Trust was delayed until the end of the allocation process.
The town, which originally received approximately $7.4 million in ARPA funding since August 2021, now has $479,549.09 left.
The Department of the Treasury requires cities and towns to allocate funding by Dec. 31, 2024 and spend funding by Dec. 31, 2026.
Managing Editor Ben Domaingue contributed to this report.