COVENTRY — From allocating funds to the town’s fire districts, to tackling projects that will improve the health of its lakes and ponds, residents so far have proposed a range of uses for the federal funds headed Coventry’s way through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

A survey posted to the town's website asking for input on the matter had yielded 113 responses as of Monday night, Town Manager Benjamin Marchant said. And during a hearing held this week via Zoom, the Coventry Town Council invited residents to chime in publicly on how they think the $8.6 million that the town anticipates getting should be spent. 

So far, there’s been quite a bit of support shown for divvying up some of the funds among the fire districts that have worked tirelessly over the last two years. 

Given the role that Coventry’s four fire districts have played throughout the pandemic, Jim Kuipers, a member of the Central Coventry Fire District Board of Directors, suggested to councilors on Monday that an appropriate portion of the town’s ARPA funds be directed to the districts.  

“We would like to work with you further to, hopefully, share in some of those funds, based on the fact that we’ve all been in this together; we’ve all been working together to support our taxpayers,” Kuipers told councilors, speaking on behalf of the Central Coventry, Coventry, Western Coventry and Hopkins Hill fire districts. 

None of the funds within the stimulus bill that was signed into law last March will be provided directly to independent fire districts, Kuipers said. The bill does, however, include a provision permitting the allocation of funds to special districts, under which the fire districts qualify. 

“I think it’s clear to everyone here that the fire service was significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic,” he continued. “Fire and rescue personnel have constantly been on the front lines.”

The fire districts have experienced increased workload due to coronavirus cases, Kuipers said, have had to deal with direct exposure to the virus, and have helped run local vaccination clinics. The fire service, in general, has seen lost revenues, higher than normal call volumes, overtime costs, and expenses related to things like personal protective equipment, he added. 

For towns with municipal fire departments, Kuipers noted, relief funds that those towns receive “will essentially flow to [the departments] naturally.”

Bryan Testen, chair of the Coventry Fire District, also advocated Monday for appropriating a portion of the rescue plan funds to the fire districts. 

“We all find ourselves in this awkward situation of looking for a share of the funding, really, because of the archaic structure that exists in Coventry separating fire and emergency services from the rest of the town’s public safety services,” Testen said. “That’s through no fault of anyone on this call — it dates back more than 100 years.” 

The districts have more work to do to determine how much each deserves, Kuipers said, and to identify exactly how the funds would be spent, since there are limits. 

In the Coventry Fire District, Testen said he estimates preliminarily that between lost revenue and a recent sewer project, his district could defend receiving at least $320,000. 

Stephen Bousquet, chair of the Western Coventry Fire District, and Joseph St. Jean, chair of the Hopkins Hill Fire District, each also addressed the council during the public hearing to show support for distributing ARPA funds to the districts. 

“There are some real needs — we are out considerable revenue from rescue recovery,” Bousquet said. “The money would go a long way in a district like ours that runs on a pretty thin budget to start with.”

Several residents also spoke in favor Monday of using relief funds for local stormwater remediation projects.

Tom Pendergast, vice president of the Upper Dam Pond Conservation Association, recommended some of the money go to installing controls at the town-owned stormwater outfalls surrounding some of Coventry’s lakes and ponds. 

“Urbanization increases the release and transport of pollutants from land to water and leads to environmental and water quality impacts,” Pendergast said. “That impacts every neighborhood in the town of Coventry, especially when families are trying to interact with their ponds in the summertime.”

Nitrogen and phosphorus are particularly troublesome, he continued, because they cause aquatic invasive species that make it difficult to use the affected body of water for recreational purposes. Phosphorus can come from lawn fertilizers, plant debris, pet waste, septic systems or waterfowl, he said, adding that most of that can be remedied. 

According to a recent study of phosphorus sources at Upper Dam Pond, installing controls there would cost $1.1 million, $800,000 of which is still needed. 

Gerry Narkiewicz, president of the Tiogue Lake Association, also addressed the council Monday to show support for putting funds toward stormwater management. But the most beneficial use of the funds, at least for the health of Tiogue Lake, would be to put them toward installing sewers, he said. 

Studies have indicated that the biggest danger to Tiogue Lake is posed by waste from old septic systems and cesspools that has infiltrated the lake from below ground, Narkiewicz said.

“I can think of no better usage of funds than to protect our environment,” he added, calling Tiogue Lake “a real gem.”

Councilor Hillary Lima said she’s heard from several District 4 residents who would like to see funds put toward preserving the Tiogue Lake. But she’s also heard from some who don’t want to see any of the money spent on sewer projects. 

Lima added that she’s heard support for allocating funds to the fire districts, as well as to the parks and recreation department. 

Councilor Kimberly Shockley said she, too, has heard support for spending funds on protecting the town’s lakes and ponds. She also received a suggestion to install cisterns in rural areas where there are no fire hydrants.

A letter sent to Jennifer Ludwig, council vice president, from a retired public works employee suggested a few other projects to consider, including a roof replacement at the DPW, a backup generator at the town hall, ventilation upgrades around the municipal buildings, and various security upgrades. 

Councilors are encouraging residents who haven’t already done so to fill out the ARPA funds survey. Eligible uses for the funds include revenue replacement; pay for essential municipal workers for their service during the pandemic; investment in sewer, stormwater and broadband infrastructure; and small business relief. 

The survey will remain open on the town’s website, coventryri.org, through Jan. 31, at which point Marchant will compile the results into a report to the town council. 

“My expectation is that the town council would then take some time at a meeting thereafter to take all that into account and make some allocation decisions about how to apportion the COVID funds,” Marchant added. 

Residents can also contact their council representatives to share their ideas. 

“It’s very important that we have a good overview from each district about how [residents] would like to see us use this very important money,” said Ann Dickson, council president. “It is a hefty amount of money, and can do a lot of good for our town. We want to use it wisely.”

kgravelle@ricentral.com

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.