Athol to use ARPA funds for fuel assistance, aid to LaunchSpace

  • BIALECKI

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/16/2022 1:22:35 PM
Modified: 9/16/2022 1:22:06 PM

ATHOL — Rebecca Bialecki, vice chair of the Athol Selectboard, announced at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, that the committee that oversees the use of ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) funds was recommending the use of those federal funds to help Athol residents heat their homes this coming winter. The advisory committee consists of Bialecki, board member Stephen Raymond, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee Chair Ken Duffy, and several department heads.

“We had a substantial amount of money still available that was unused in our ARPA monies, which is federal dollars that came to the town that had to meet specific criteria, and we have two recommendations for the board’s consideration this evening,” Bialecki began. “One is to support the local fuel assistance program for $200,000. That would allow for a one time, up to $1,000 for fuel oil or propane to low- and moderate-income families. That would include seniors, for the most part.

“The program,” she continued, “would be run through the Salvation Army because they already have the things in place to check and verify incomes and all of that. This would allow them some additional money because we’re very concerned about the cost of home heating this coming winter, potentially soaring even higher than it is now. Last year, we had people barely making it through the season trying to keep warm.”

Bialecki noted that while screening will be done by the Salvation Army, payments will actually come from the town and be sent directly to the household’s fuel provider.

“So,” she said, “the people don’t get the money, they get the benefit of the fuel. It’s a one-time, one-and-done option. And we think this will really help supplement the funds that the Salvation Army already has.

“And there’s also the ability for the Salvation Army to encourage people to really take advantage of fuel assistance through the federal government, and they teach people how to apply for that. So, we know they are going to be getting the full benefit of things they are already entitled to before they’re using this.”

Raymond, who serves on the Salvation Army’s Advisory Board, said, “We’ve had numerous discussions about this. The Salvation Army has all of the criteria in place for checking income, for verifying income.

“One of the things we are going to require people to do is, we’re going to ask that we get a photo of the current status of their fuel tank — dated. So, in other words — we had an issue with this a few years ago — so, what’s going to happen is you have to take a picture of your oil tank with the date on it. In other words, ‘I’ve got a quarter of a tank, or an eighth of a tank, and here it is.’”

“There have been some people who tried to get in there first and top off their tank,” interjected Bialecki. “Or figuring out ways to get it as a credit with their oil company. We’re requiring a photo of their tank meter and a delivery slip, so that we know how much they get.

“So, it’s up to $1,000, but if prices get more reasonable, we’ll have more families who can benefit from it.”

LaunchSpace at Pleasant Street School

Bialecki said the ARPA committee is also recommending the use of up to $50,000 for the former Pleasant Street School building, now occupied by LaunchSpace, a non-profit which, according to its website, “(provides) tools, equipment, education and support to people who want to make and repair things, but don’t have space.”

“This would provide the funding needed to fix the plumbing,” said Bialecki. “That would help to support the first phase of the project. My recommendation was to tie the plumbing support dollars to a timeline given to us by LauncSpace so that we can have some very clear timelines of when certain things are going to be open. We have community people asking.”

LaunchSpace leases the former school from the town at a nominal price. It also operates a similar 13,000-square-foot facility in Orange.

“Why are we giving them funds?” asked board Chair Alan Dodge. “I thought they were going to apply for funds and fix up that building. Why are we giving them ARPA funds.”

“They would do routine minor maintenance,” Suhoski replied, “but that building is still a town building. They are in partnership applying for grants.”

Suhoski further explained that LaunchSpace has received substantial grant monies which it has, in fact, used in large part to renovate the building.

“What we’ve got now,” Suhoski continued, “is a building that’s been vacant for six years, aside from the work (LaunchSpace) has done with brooms and volunteers. Now the funds are flowing and these modest investments are important to them to get phase one going, but it will help leverage more investment down the road.”

The Selectboard voted unanimously to approve the expenditure of ARPA funds on both items.

Bialecki told the Athol Daily News that about $300,000 of ARPA monies remain in the town’s possession. She said that will provide the cushion needed to pay the town’s consultant and any cost overruns that may occur on other projects already approved by the board. The town had received nearly $4 million in total funding.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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