Montague Town Meeting voters OK $200K toward pedestrian bridge project

  • Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis answers a question during Special Town Meeting on Saturday at Franklin County Technical School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Montague Police Chief Christopher Williams answers questions during Special Town Meeting on Saturday at Franklin County Technical School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Montague residents approved all 13 articles during Saturday’s Special Town Meeting at Franklin County Technical School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2021 10:13:12 AM

MONTAGUE — Residents approved all 13 articles at Saturday’s Special Town Meeting, including raising the wages of dispatchers, Montague City Road flooding relief funds and allocating $200,000 toward a new Fifth Street pedestrian bridge.

Much of the meeting, which narrowly achieved a quorum at Franklin County Technical School, revolved around the discussion of Article 8, as residents debated the use of $200,000 to help fund the construction of the Fifth Street pedestrian bridge. The project is supported by a $2.16 million MassWorks grant, but Town Administrator Steve Ellis said the requested money — which might not be spent at all if the project qualifies for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding — would help secure an engineering bid.

“The request today would allow the awarding of the bid,” Ellis said. “If we fail this today, we go back to the drawing board.”

The warrant described the project as “a major initiative that will restore pedestrian and bike access over the canal leading toward Greenfield by the former Southworth Paper Mill, and enhance this gateway to Montague.”

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said the bridge is “the first step” in revitalizing the Canal District. He added that repairing the current bridge would cost more than building a new one.

Ellis added that the sudden influx of infrastructure money across the region and the country would raise construction prices beyond their already inflated state.

“We’re very concerned,” Ellis said, “the construction market is going to get tighter and more expensive.”

Ellis and the Selectboard said several hundreds of thousands of dollars of ARPA funding may also be allocated to the project if it qualifies, which some residents questioned.

“I find it is a hard stretch to spend $400,000 of ARPA money for a bridge,” commented resident Mark Fisk.

Ellis said town officials are waiting on “guidance from the federal treasury” on where to spend ARPA money, but they don’t have any other options to fund the project otherwise.

“There are no other ways to make up that gap,” Ellis said. “It’s matching the moment to the resources available now.”

Following the discussion, residents approved the article unanimously.

In other business, voters approved raising wages for Montague’s dispatchers by adding $29,000 to the fiscal year 2022 dispatch budget. Montague Police Chief Christopher Williams said the town is in “dire need of hiring new dispatchers” and the town is in danger of losing its dispatch center if any current staff leave.

“Anytime we can’t man our dispatch, we’ll lose them,” Williams said. “If we were to lose 911, the state would decide if Northampton, Framingham or Shelburne Control would take it.”

He said a third-party dispatch center would take 911 calls and then call a Montague dispatcher to relay the message to emergency services, which could severely hamper response times.

Resident Ariel Elan said the town is “trying to catch up” with its neighboring dispatch centers and it’s important the town pays its dispatchers enough to warrant their hard work.

“We need to get good quality people,” Elan said. “We need to find it within ourselves to pay what’s necessary.”

Voters also approved the allocation of $135,000 to implement the Montague City Road Flooding Relief Project. Ellis said the project would affect the drainage systems around the road, but not directly change the road itself.

Other articles approved include allocation of $50,000 from the Cannabis Impact Fee Fund to develop a pilot program focused on substance abuse prevention programming with families and children; and $114,382 to purchase a robotic sewer camera for the Department of Public Works.

Article 12, which allocated $250,000 of free cash to OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) funds, faced an amendment from resident Michael Naughton. His amendment reduced OPEB allocation to $50,000 because he said there were “likely better uses for $200,000.”

“The Selectboard was essentially looking under couch cushions to fund the Fifth Street bridge,” Naughton said. “(Putting the money in OPEB) does no immediate good … when we’ve got these other needs staring us in the face.”

Naughton added the town usually puts around $50,000 into OPEB each year.

Finance Committee member John Hanold said the town’s current post-retirement obligations total more than $15 million and it’s “worthwhile” to put some extra money into the fund when it’s available.

“We have a long way to go,” Hanold said. “It’s an opportunity to take a bigger step.”

Residents voted Naughton’s amendment down and passed the original article with a majority.

The full warrant, with background for each article, can be viewed at bit.ly/3iXNBfn.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or
413-930-4081.


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