The Town of Marion hopes it is turning a fiscal corner after Representative William Straus presented its delegates with a $250,000 check on April 2, part of a $2 million commitment from the state to assist on debt payment associated with the rehabilitation of the Wastewater Treatment Plant lagoon off Benson Brook Road.
Later that same day, the town received a second check for $150,810.52 in federal CARES Act funding administered by Plymouth County. The money is reimbursement for non-budgeted COVID-related expenses in response to scheduled applications.
Straus explained that the $250,000 delivered on April 2 to support the lagoon project applies to the current fiscal year, FY21.
“Other projects elsewhere in the state weren’t as far along when this money became available, but we’re still working with the [Department of Environmental Protection] commissioner…. It’s not like he gives a grant all at once; it’s a progress statements kind of thing,” said Straus.
The way the bond authorizations work, explained Straus, the town can draw upon the funding over several years. Careful craftsmanship played a role in securing the funding.
“It doesn’t say Marion, but what it does say is certain kinds of sewage-treatment projects on Buzzards Bay,” explained Straus. Marion’s wastewater lagoon is the only item that checks the stipulated boxes.
Marion’s steadfast attempts to secure debt funding is only a piece of the financial challenge that the town faces where it concerns a lagoon project that has been projected to eventually exceed $12 million when all is said and done.
The latest estimates indicate that 370 tons of sludge are yet to be removed from the lagoon, which is 70 tons more than previously estimated. Selectman John Waterman told Straus that the new information required a change in the article for funding that will appear on Marion’s upcoming Annual Town Meeting Warrant.
The CARES Act funding, made possible via reimbursements for non-budgeted, pandemic-related expenses, enabled Marion to mobilize as a COVID-19 vaccine distribution center, initially inviting first-responders from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham, then tackling the eldest bracket of the town’s residents.
In addressing Plymouth County’s delegation that included Commissioners Greg Hanley and Jared Valanzola, Treasurer Tom O’Brien, and Register of Deeds John Buckley Jr., Esq., who were gathered around the Elizabeth Taber statue in Bicentennial Park, Town Administrator Jay McGrail pointed to the drive-thru vaccination clinics the town held.
“This is an unbelievable check for us to get for one specific reason. Included in the funding for this check is the tent that we purchased, and we used that tent since starting in January to vaccinate over 2,000 people in this community, including almost 90 percent of our 85-plus population,” said McGrail. “We’re still using it this week … for second shots, which will be the last of our vaccinations that we’ll be receiving from the state.”
McGrail continued, “When we look back in history and think about what we’ve done since January 1 with that tent that you paid for with that check … honestly, those people wouldn’t have gotten those shots without that check.”
O’Brien said Marion’s well-organized application resulted in one of Plymouth County’s first reimbursement checks. Friday’s was the second, and will not be the last, according to O’Brien, who noted that county administration of the program has resulted in more funding for towns, along with crucial accounting services that became critical when the federal government determined that six expense categories were not sufficient and expanded the application to 17 categories.
April 2 did not solve all of Marion’s problems, but the aid indicates that the image of Marion as a well-off, quaint little seaside resort inhabited by the wealthy is a false assumption and was not a deterrent to the lagoon funding Straus secured, but part of his job as a state representative is to make sure the state realizes that there is much more to Marion and Mattapoisett than some waterfront homes.
“We have diverse towns … frankly, going back to whaling days,” he said. “Marion and Rochester, some of the population, particularly even the Cape Verdean communities in the towns, some members of a family would be out on whaleships, some would be on the (cranberry) bogs. That diversity in these towns is still present, as we all know.”
By Mick Colageo