Phillips holds informational meeting on town warrant articles including fire department and ARPA funds

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PHILLIPS – During an informational meeting Tuesday night, residents raised concerns about an article in the 2023 Annual Town Warrant that, if approved as written, would authorize the select board to expend the remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the town, for ‘town improvements.’

Article 19 asks if the town will vote to appropriate $57,672.08 from the second round of ARPA funds and the remaining $3,639.70 that has not yet been committed from the first round of funding for town improvements, and authorize the select board to spend those funds.

Town Manager Maureen Haley explained that the funds must be obligated by 2024 and spent by 2026, and approval of this article would meet the requirement for obligating the funds. The select board has a number of potential projects under consideration for these funds, which includes investing in playground equipment and improvements, replacing a fence on Main Street, and conducting repairs at the town office. The select board invited comments from the public to help inform decisions on how the funds will be spent.

Several community members expressed concern about authorizing the board to spend the funds on ‘town improvements’ without further guidance from the community. In addition, the possibility of using ARPA funds to improve a basketball court near 15 Russell Street was discussed. The property is currently owned by the town, and an argument was made that creating a playground in the center of the downtown area would appeal to families who may not want to allow their children to travel to the park on Park Street behind the current fire station and public works building.

It would be possible for the town to amend the article if desired.

Other topics discussed during the informational meeting included a warrant article to see what option the town would choose for a new fire station.

For several years the Phillips Fire Department has looked to relocate from the current station on Park Street, citing limited space in the truck bays along with excessive corrosion and damage to fire trucks due to the town’s salt and sand pile located in front of the station.

Originally, the department proposed adding a four-bay addition to the building at 15 Russell Street, formerly the town office. The fire department would plan to use the portion of the building that was already renovated for the town office, and the only additional renovations would be to include showers in the bathrooms for proper decontamination facilities. This project would cost roughly $350,000.

Over the spring, Fire Chief James Gould and members of the department applied for a Congressionally Directed Spending grant for a complete overall of the entire building along with the four-bay addition, but did not receive the funding in this year’s allocation as the town had not approved an investment in the project. The total project is estimated at $1.8 million and the town would be responsible for a 15% match if the Congressionally Directed Spending grant was approved. That match would be in the ballpark of $350,000.

The warrant article asks if the town would authorize the application for the congressional grant and appropriate $138,750 for a Public Safety Building reserve account, or authorize a four-bay addition to the building and appropriate $138,750 for a Building Expansion reserve account. The appropriation is expected to be half of the sum needed for either the building expansion or the matching funds for the complete renovation project.

Haley said that the town could vote either for the first or second option, or vote down both options if they did not support the project. Based on the wording in the article, if the town voted in favor of the first option – to apply for congressional funds – they would not then vote on the second option.

Gould said the department would be happy with either option; however, he expressed dissatisfaction with the wording of the article, which only allows one of the two options. Gould anticipates that the town would not move forward with the $1.8 million project without congressional funding, but would hope that the town could consider the four-bay addition to 15 Russell Street if the federal funding was applied for and not received.

If the town approves an appropriation of $138,750 from undesignated funds for either option, another similar appropriation would be expected next year to provide full funding for the chosen project.

The remaining warrant article discussed at the meeting was to see if the town would approve applying for a Village Partnership Initiative grant from the Maine Department of Transportation. This grant would be used to repair the sidewalk corners on Main and Pleasant Streets, and Main and Bridge Streets. In addition, the article asks if the town would create a Village Partnership Match account and appropriate $20,000 from the undesignated fund to use as matching funds and authorize the select board to spend from that account without further vote of the town meeting.

Concerns were raised about the condition of the sidewalks as a whole. Haley said that repairing the sidewalk corners to make them ADA compliant would be a first step and that the town can continue to apply for this grant in future years to continue repairs on the sidewalks.

Any changes to the warrant articles would need to be made as amendments to the articles during the annual town meeting, Haley said.

The annual town meeting will be held on Saturday, June 17 at 10 a.m. at the Phillips Area Community Center. The warrant is available as a PDF on the town website and in the town report, available at the town office. During the meeting, municipal officials will be elected, with three select board positions open and one school board position open.

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