Berlin Officials Talk Uses For $4.7M In ARPA Funding

Berlin Officials Talk Uses For $4.7M In ARPA Funding
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BERLIN– New water meters, Branch Street well replacement and fire company needs highlight the town’s initial spending plan for federal relief funds.

The Berlin Town Council reviewed a spending plan for its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding at a meeting this week. The town has already received nearly $2.4 million and is set to receive another payment of the same amount later this year. Mayor Zack Tyndall said this week’s discussion was a follow-up to previous talks.

“This follows public listening session that we had earlier in the year and also the discussion we had regarding the allocation of some of these funds during our last meeting,” he said.

As proposed, the ARPA spending plan allocates $754,990 to smart water meters and $300,000 for installation of those meters. The plan also includes $110,000 for a drainage project on Washington Street, $350,000 for the Branch Street well replacement, $28,000 for a strategic plan, $30,000 for an update to the comprehensive plan, $135,500 for portable radios, $50,000 for audio visual equipment for council chambers, $267,520 for fire and EMS equipment, $54,000 in business grants and $50,000 for the digitization of town files. The projects total $2,130,010 and would leave a little more than $267,000 as a remaining balance for the first ARPA payment.

The second payment is proposed for primarily three major projects. Tyndall said it was currently planned to be spent on a $1 million Broad Street lift station, a $300,000 well house on Powellton Avenue and would provide $1 million toward an upgrade of the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Some funding is also planned for the second phase of a Rails to Trails bike path and general fund revenue loss.

Councilman Jay Knerr said he objected to the spending planned for radios, as the police chief only requested two, not the roughly 20 proposed in the plan. Knerr said he also didn’t think the town needed to spend $54,000 on business grants, as local shops had a great year last year.

“They’re not asking for it,” Knerr said. “It’s not necessary.”

Councilman Jack Orris said he wanted to see some of the ARPA funds devoted to stormwater improvements, as drainage has been and continues to be a problem in town.

“I think stormwater really needs to be addressed,” he said, going as far as to question the entire utility. “When I say addressed—I’ve mentioned it before—the functionality and the applicability of the utility that exists, currently. I think we should review in the next fiscal year.”

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said she didn’t see the need for $135,500 for portable radios when the chief had only requested two radios.

Tyndall said he wanted to have enough radios that each department could have one. When Knerr pointed out that town employees were using cell phones successfully now, Tyndall said they didn’t “put everybody on the same page operationally.”

“That really comes to task when we’re doing events, when we’re doing emergency preparedness, things of that nature,” he said.

Finance Director Natalie Saleh said radios hadn’t been requested by department heads.

“It was not a department head request but it is to get us to a level of preparedness operationally where it would improve the operations and preparedness of the town,” Tyndall replied.

When Knerr echoed the stormwater concerns referenced by Orris, Tyndall suggested a presentation be scheduled with the town’s stormwater engineer. He said the remaining balance from the first ARPA payment could be used to leverage grant funds for stormwater projects.

Though Nichols said she thought audio visual equipment for the council chambers was a purchase that could be delayed, particularly since the town was already broadcasting meetings with Facebook, Tyndall indicated he felt strongly about the expenditure.

“An audio-visual system is something I would say is a very big must for the Town of Berlin,” he said.

Nichols agreed that it was important but said she just didn’t think it needed to be a top priority. Tyndall said that even with it on the spending list, there were still some ARPA funds left.

“We’re still accomplishing all the requests with money left over,” Tyndall said.

Resident Carol Rose urged officials to replace the Broad Street lift station now, with the first portion of ARPA funds.

“It’s critical,” she said. “If that thing fails the amount of money it’s going to cost to take care of the issues is going to be astronomical.”

Tyndall said that because the council had already committed to certain projects on the list, there wasn’t $1 million available for the project in this first installment of funding.

Orris pointed out that the town was already working on a request for proposals for the project so that when the funding was available the town would be ready to move forward with the lift station replacement quickly.

Resident Gina Velong questioned the immediate need for radios and said she also didn’t think the business grants were necessary.

“We have a huge economic development budget already,” she said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.