Select Board - Sep 21st, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

ARPA Funding Presentation

ARPA is the American Rescue Plan Act. For this agenda item, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine presents a framework for allocating ARPA funds.

(Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager) Mr. Chapdelaine explains that we're still operating under interim rules and aren't sure when final rules will be developed. At this stage, we want a framework for deciding fund allocation, with the expectation that the details will likely change.

ARPA is intended to address several areas: (1) support of public health expenditures around COVID; (2) addressing negative economic effects caused by the public health emergency; (3) aiding communities and populations hardest hit by the crisis; (4) providing premium pay for essential workers; and (5) investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

The categories in the framework include:

  • Revenue loss in the general fund (based on ARPA calculations) relative to the base year 2019. The calculations say that Arlington won't be able to claim revenue loss due to the debt exclusion for the high school. We're trying to advocate for changes that would allow the town to claim revenue loss.
  • Premium pay. This pay would go to essential town workers, that had to provide services in-person.
  • Mental health. This includes the Arlington Police Department, the Arlington Youth Counseling Center, and a mental health reserve. Specific uses for the metal health reserve are TBD.
  • Low income broadband support. As the law currently stands, we'd only be able to use these funds where broadband services are not available. Very little of Arlington falls into this category.
  • Tenant assistance and small business assistance. This would expand the eligibility of earlier relief provided through Community Development Block Grants. Members of the arts community would like to receive small business assistance.
  • Food Insecurity. We've talked with Foodlink and Arlington EATS regarding proposals. The plan is to work with both groups.
  • HVAC improvements in public buildings.
  • Parks and open space. These funds will be used for the upgrade and maintenance of parks and facilities.
  • Water and sewer spending. This is the biggest category in the framework. Funds would be used for water and sewer replacement, lead line removal, inflow and infiltration mitigation, and water meter replacements. These funds will mitigate future water rate increases.
  • Affordable housing. Affordable housing has several categories: Arlington Housing Authority (AHA) capital improvements, AHA transportation, AHA resident support services, deepening the affordability of units in the pipeline, and affordable housing unit production (through the Housing Corporation of Arlington, or contributions to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund).
  • Homelessness. The hope is to be part of a regional approach to address homelessness.
  • Administration and oversight. These funds would support a temporary staff member to administer the funds, and cover additional auditing expenses.
  • Reserve. These are additional funds from the county allocation.

(Diane Mahon, Select Board) Ms. Mahon asks Mr. Chapdelaine if he's met with any of the unions.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says he's had talks with two of the unions, but further discussions are needed.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon feels that one of the main tenets of ARPA funds has been to compensate essential workers. She supports hybrid remote/in-person work arrangements, but not all jobs can do that. She hopes that union workers can be treated the same as non-union. Ms. Mahon says that some union workers slept in tents to avoid infecting their families. She's insulted that the framework only includes $1.5M for essential workers. If we paid them the maximum amount, it would be 14--15% of the money. She believes that union workers have been treated unfairly, and would like to give essential workers the maximum amount. They've been putting their lives, and their families lives on the line while other workers have been able to work from home. She wants to treat police, fire, and DPW workers the same as non-union, and hopes that at least two other board members agree with her.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says that essential workers are only receiving funds in the first year because that's all the statute allows.

(John Hurd, Select Board) Mr. Hurd also wants to address premium pay. He asks what the maximum is, and how the $1.5M figure in the framework was arrived at.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says the maximum pay is $25k/worker. $25k times the number of eligible workers would be $5--7M. The $1.5M figure comes from an estimate of one-time bonus pay, times the number of eligible workers.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says that during the height of the pandemic, APD, AFD, and DPW workers were really concerned about having to work in person, being in contact with people that had COVID, and then coming into contact with members of their family. This money is for people who had to work face-to-face while the rest of us were working from home. He thinks repaying workers is important.

Mr. Hurd thinks it's absurd that the town can't claim revenue loss under the current rules, and asks if HVAC funds would be used for schools. He'd like some of the funds to be allocated there. He's happy that open space funds are explicitly geared towards playgrounds. He asks a question about the reserve funds.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says that reserve funds which aren't spent should be reallocated before the end of the expenditure period.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd thinks some of the allocations have to be re-worked, but it's good to see concrete numbers.

(Lenard Diggins, Select Board) Mr. Diggins asks if we've considered a scoring mechanism for funding applications, particularly after the first year.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says there's been some discussion about this, and we do have a scoring model for CDBG applications. We'd need to figure out how to score across disparate categories (e.g., water and sewer vs homelessness).

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins believes we can score within categories rather than across categories. Regarding supporting artists, he'd like to see a plan that supports artists housing. For food insecurity, there could be a lot of potential here. We need to take care of food needs across the region, and the food insecurity here. For water and sewer, Mr. Diggins appreciates how the funds can reduce rates. He asks if there are reduced rate programs for low income individuals.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says there's a reduced rate program for seniors.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks if it's possible to do a water conservation program.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says he can bring that idea back to DPW.

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says that Arlington EATS is serving 1/3 more people due to food insecurity.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says there's a ranking program for CDBG, but it's within categories, due to funding constraints.

(Eric Helmuth, Select Board) Mr. Helmuth appreciates the framework and understands that it's preliminary. He appreciates the thought that's gone into it. He'd like to help our most vulnerable. This seems like a lot of money, until you realize the need is so big. Regarding HVAC, could we do something for better filtration and airflow?

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine believes that's the statute's intent.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks if we'd do an evaluation of older buildings.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine believes the facilities department has a good handle on that, but he hasn't asked for dollar amounts yet.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth appreciates the funds for parks and playgrounds; they have an important public health purpose. It would be great to catch up there. Housing investments are appealing but it's hard to get the ball rolling there. Foodlink's services have gone through the roof and not abated. He appreciates the comments about premium pay, but would like to understand the current amounts and statutory intent. He thinks we need to understand more about the details, and hear how other municipalities are addressing premium pay.

(Steve DeCourcey) Regarding the various categories, Mr. DeCourcey supports using the funds for all four. He'd like to understand which workers are classified as essential, and any limitations that apply.

The chair opens the hearing to public comments.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore was disturbed by Ms. Mahon's comments. He thinks that drawing lines between essential and non-essential, union and non-union doesn't help. We have a lot of interests to cover.

(Beth Locke) Ms. Locke is the executive director of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. She's pleased to see money set aside for businesses, but feels the board hasn't said much about this. She'd like to advocate for businesses; they were very adversely affected. She notes that the Chamber is holding a state of the town address on Wednesday and asks the board to keep the business community in mind.

(Robert Dustin) Mr. Dustin is the president of the firefighters union. He says that everyone at the fire department has shown up every day, and they've gone out on every call. It was very scary in the beginning. Some of the guys had young kids at home. There's money for essential workers, and he says that setting the amount doesn't seem like a negotiation. He asks the board to raise the line item for essential workers.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik thanks Ms. Mahon for prioritizing essential workers. She really wants to prioritize firefighters and first responders. She'd like to see teachers added to the list, because they faced a lot in the beginning of the pandemic. She thanks Mr. Helmuth for bringing up air quality, and feels that should be essential for schools. She's a big advocate for open space, and says it's essential for health and well-being.

There are no further comments from the public.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon wants to stress the point of helping essential workers. She still thinks that $1.5M is a pittance. $5M would be the maximum amount, which works out to roughly $6500/worker. She wants to advocate for union employees.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says he should have mentioned businesses earlier, and recognizes there's a need there.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks how the state is going to allocate the funds it has to spend.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says he doesn't have a sense of that yet.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks if the board can get the text of the guidelines that the town manager is using. He thinks that would be helpful. He asks if housing assistance would be for rentals.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine believes it would be for rental housing.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins says he used to record the state of the town addresses for ACMi, and encourages people to attend.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey asks if the interim final rules and Treasury Department Q&A can be distributed to board members.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks if expanding the capacity for remote participation would be an allowable expense.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine believes those costs would be eligible, and could be built into the framework.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks Mr. Chapdelaine to clarify his meetings with employee unions.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says he's had preliminary discussions, but hasn't gotten to putting pen to paper.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth expresses appreciation and gratitude to the firefighters. He thinks we can continue to have an honest discussion and assume the best intent.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey also wants to express his appreciation for Mr. Dustin and the way the firefighters went on COVID calls. He thanks the town manager for the presentation and timetable. He thinks the board will need one more night of discussion before they're ready to offer an endorsement.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine thinks that sounds prudent. He suggests another discussion on October 13 and a potential endorsement later. He thinks that getting this right is more important than getting it done.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey believes that the categories for homelessness and mental health are related. He asks if there are other categories that might be better addressed regionally, by working with other communities.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says nothing else jumps out for partnerships, but we can learn from what other communities are doing in different areas.

The board motions to receive the proposal. Motion passes, 5--0.

Open Forum

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik expresses concern over the pending budget override, and asks how the town will address overspending.

(Martin Conroy) Mr. Conroy is the secretary of local 1297. He thanks Ms. Mahon for her words of encouragement. Members showed up for work every day, as did members of the police department.

Proposed Removal of Trees for Broadway Plaza Renovation

Last week, the board approved the removal of three trees in Broadway plaza in order for MWRA work to proceed. This is a hearing for the remainder of the trees marked for removal.

(Michael Rademacher, DPW Director) Mr. Rademacher is looking for the board to approve the removal of nine trees so the plaza can be renovated. MWRA will assume 75% of the renovation cost. The plaza's brick surface is failing and an impediment to mobility. The brick heaving is caused by tree roots, directly under the surface of the plaza. The trees are clearly showing signs of stress. They provide a small canopy for their age and there's been little growth in the last few years. The new trees will be supplemented with structural soil, giving them a better chance than what's there today. Mr. Rademacher says the DPW doesn't take tree removal lightly, and believes the new trees will provide better a canopy than what's there today.

Mr. Rademacher says the DPW planted 14 trees and removed two when replacing sidewalks near Broadway Plaza. He's discussed the project with the tree committee, and will try to retain four of the trees. The tree removal will probably happen next spring.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth would like more information about structural soil. He asks if it will reduce the chance for root heaves.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says it will. Structural soil will support the weight of the sidewalk while leaving voids for roots to grow. Compacted soil forces tree roots to the surface. Structural soil is better aerated.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks about the size of the new trees, when planted and at maturity.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they'll be 3.5--5" caliper when planted, which is larger than a typical new street tree. They'll be a combination of red maple and honey locust.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks how long it will take before we get a comparable tree canopy.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says it's hard to predict, but probably in 10--12 years.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon asks if the new trees will have a better chance with the structural soil.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher thinks that structural soil will give the new trees the greatest chance for survival. The new plaza surface will be concrete, stamped to look like brick.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd asks how many trees DPW planted and removed this year.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they've planted 220 trees and removed 82. In the remainder of the year, they plan to plant approximately 200 more trees and remove around 80. Over the last four years, DPW planted 1400 trees and removed 763. Most of the removed trees were either damaged during storms, or failing.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says he doesn't take tree removal requests lightly. He notes that the Broadway Plaza plan has been in the works for years and he's excited to see it move forward. He hasn't met anyone who like the current plaza configuration. He thinks the town protects its tree canopy and only removes trees when necessary.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey asks about the timetable for planting new trees.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that planting is planned for the spring, and will likely be a 1--2 month project.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey asks about the criteria used for selecting the four trees to preserve.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says they're on the outer edge of the plaza. The one near Medford St. will be the most challenging to retain.

The chair opens the hearing to public comment.

(Jo Anne Preston) Ms. Preston attended the last tree committee meeting and believes there's time to explore alternatives. She sent several articles to Mr. Rademacher and says that information wasn't incorporated into his remarks. She believes that the existing trees should get root barriers and tree grates. Why preserve trees? Because we're already seeing the effects of climate change and this past July was the wettest one on record. The carbon that trees remove is critical to preventing climate change, and it will take the new trees two decades before they can slow climate change. She thinks the tree removal will turn Broadway Plaza into a heat island.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik hopes that town leadership will acknowledge the code red for climate change. She asks the board to prioritize the preservation of mature trees. There are heat islands near Broadway Plaza, and removing these trees will make it hotter. It will only get worse. She hopes the town will re-evaluate its choice of benches. She wants to preserve trees, and wants to query the DPW about soil compaction in Whittemore Park. She'd like to know the total diameter of trees removed and the total diameter to be planted. She believes that tree for tree replacement is insufficient, due to the loss of the tree canopy. She says the town needs a better plan.

(Robin Bergman) Ms. Bergman agrees with the previous speakers. The tree canopy is important and the situation with code red is dire. She thinks that tree for tree replacement will take too long to regrow the canopy.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak doesn't want to diminish the myriad of benefits that trees offer, buts think the claim that the Broadway Plaza trees need to be preserved to slow climate change is not realistic; it's more symbolic than substantive.

Yes, the planet is warming, and it is warming because of greenhouse gas emissions. And these greenhouse gas emissions come from extracting and burning fossil fuels. That is the needle we have to move: reduce emissions from buildings and transportation, or live with the consequences of not doing so. Replacing a few trees on Broadway plaza will not make a meaningful difference.

Having said that, Mr. Revilak would like to note something Paris has been doing under the leadership of their Mayor, Anne Hidalgo. They are planning to remove half of the city's on-street parking spaces -- around 35,000 parking spaces in total, with the intention of returning the space to people (rather than cars). The actual nuts and bolts will be figured out over time, but he thinks it's not unreasonable to expect something like green space, mobility, and outdoor dining. Arlington has roughly 100 miles of public ways; we could plant a lot of trees if we just got rid of some parking.

Broadway plaza is long overdue for improvement, and Mr. Revilak encourages the board to issue the approvals necessary for the work to go forward.

(Erin Bungorner (?)) Ms. Bungorner says she's not a tree expert. However, she suggests there's time for more discussion and thinking outside the box.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the tree committee is appointed by the Select Board to protect trees in Arlington. Mr. Rademacher came to the tree committee two weeks ago. There was no vote, but no one thought it was okay to remove mature trees. The plaza is already very hot, and businesses will lose business in the summertime. The plaza has to be resurfaced, but that doesn't mean that trees have to be removed. Ms. Stamps would like a design that preserves some trees and finds creative ways to keep people away from root heaves. The project does need to go forward, but with extreme effort to preserve trees. Mr. Rademacher didn't mention consultation with the tree warden, and Ms. Stamps would like to see what the tree warden has to offer. Massachusetts is one of the top ten fastest warming states in the country. She asks the board to put a pause on the project and reconsider it in the spring.

There are no further comments from the public.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that since his meeting with the tree committee, he's reviewed each tree to be removed with a landscape architect. The stress of the trees and buckling of the surface is not conducive to saving them. He did the same thing with the tree warden, who believed that under their current stress levels the trees were not conducive to saving.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth asks how a delay would impact the timeline of the project.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the contract has already been awarded by the MWRA, and there's little time to amend.

(Eric Helmuth) Mr. Helmuth moves approval, but he'd like to say a few words about his decision. Leaving mature trees is a good default position, but we need to take the project in context; these trees are stressed and new trees will have a better chance. We need to think long-term, and he believes the DPW director when he says the trees are stressed. If they die, new trees will go into the same bad conditions and soil. He doesn't see any opportunity to make these trees healthier and doesn't want to perpetuate the conditions that are making them unhappy.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon seconds.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd supports the motion.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks what's the latest the board could put off making a decision.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says we can't hold off on a decision if there's a need to redesign the plaza.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks if the soil could be rejuvenated, like Ms. Preston suggested.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says the details he received from Ms. Preston are oriented towards new tree plantings.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks if there are any avenues we haven't explored.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says DPW has explored all avenues that he's aware of. We can fertilize the trees, but we can't change the root position or soil compaction.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins asks how many small trees it would take to replace the amount of carbon sequestered.

(Michael Rademacher) Mr. Rademacher says that replacing DBH for DBH is a common approach.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey doesn't take tree removal lightly, but he agrees with Mr. Helmuth's motion.

Board approves the tree removal, 5--0.

Left the meeting at this point.