Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury Select Board met on Nov. 30 for a veterans housing funding discussion. Member Anne Marie Stro­nach joined the meeting via teleconference.

The board reviewed a lo­cal funding request from the nonprofit organization Sol­dier On, which is working to construct the 21-unit Gordon H. Mansfield Veter­ans Vil­lage at 1660 Main St., next to Heatherwood Re­tirement Liv­ing. Soldier On consultant Peter Gra­ham said pandemic-related supply chain is­sues have in­creased the cost of the de­velopment.

The Select Board previously allocated $350,000 out of the town’s $5 million Af­for­dable Housing Trust Fund toward the construction of 21 affordable studio and one-bedroom permanent veterans housing units. Soldier On sought $4 million from the state Department of Housing and Community Develop­ment. DHCD re­ques­­ted that Soldier On go back to Tewks­bury to seek additional funding through town’s American Rescue Plan Act funding; however, the local funds have al­ready been allocated.

Soldier On requested an additional $500,000 from the town’s Affordable Hou­sing Trust Fund for a total of $850,000. A letter from Sol­dier On CEO Bruce Buckley to the board ex­plained that all ongoing op­erating support will be covered by Soldier On and its partners, including the US Department of Veter­ans Af­fairs and the state through rental assistance vouchers; Soldier On will also be fundraising for private support. All 21 units will be in­cluded in state affordable housing inventory.

Member Jayne Wellman asked that Graham provide the board with Sol­dier On’s audited financial documents, adding that she felt the project was a “good use” of funding but needed more information. Other board members wanted to wait and see how the financials work out on the project to avoid allocating money that might not be needed.

Soldier On was encouraged to go back to the state for funding; member Todd John­son said that the town needs to push back against the state more to stop shifting financial burdens to local funds.

“The state acknowledged that this is a big ask for them and I don't want anybody to leave this meeting thinking that this was the state asking to leverage and not do their fair share, the state does an enormous amount,” Graham said. “I wish we weren't here asking for money to house our homeless veterans. I wish this country wasn't asking independent nonprofits to go grovel for monies to put people into safe, accommodating housing. Our legislative delegation has done a great job across the board for this cause, but it just comes down to, is money in the [affordable housing] trust doing more return on investment than housing for veterans? That’s not my call. I’m here to try to build housing for veterans.”

The board tabled the is­sue for a future discussion.

Town Manager Richard Montuori reviewed his goals and objectives for 2022. He reviewed his FY20-FY21 goals: continue and undertake capital projects and improvement planning, in­cluding working on the re­gional emergency communications center, elementary school project, and fire station project; develop new or improve and update policies, procedures, and by­laws and continue to work on land transfers from the Com­mon­wealth; and maintain budget, operations, and administration, through hir­ing new fire and police chiefs, completing a community emergency man­agement plan, overseeing a successful FY21 budget year and FY22 budget process.

Montuori explained that he hopes to continue several of his goals in the future and add several new projects, including determining a use for the Ella Flemings School next to the Dewing School on An­dover Street and working to construct boardwalks on open space trails. Mon­tuori plans to continue to work on updating the general bylaw and zoning by­law, and wants to ensure the successful fi­nancial com­pe­ti­tion of FY22 and FY23 budget process.

He will continue to monitor COVID-19 developments, com­plete the town website up­grade, and assess cybersecurity needs. The board thank­ed Montuori and his staff for their work through­out the pandemic ahead of his formal annual evaluation.

Several members discus­sed concerns over a comment at a recent Lowell Ci­ty Council meeting that the city wants to move its un­housed population to Tewks­bury State Hospital due to a lack of shelter beds for 120 individuals. Wellman said that Tewksbury already fa­ces a strain on public services from the hospital, and if there is a regional ap­proach to sheltering un­housed peoples, Tewksbury should seek to be part of the conversation.

Member James Mackey, one of the board’s representatives to the zoning bylaw committee, requested that public hearings on updating the bylaw be televised at resident request. As the board’s resident cy­ber­se­curity ex­pert, he shared that he hopes work on the new town website will be completed by the end of the year and announced that the town received a $10,000 grant for cybersecurity up­grades and assessment.

The next meeting is sche­duled for Dec. 21, 2021. Re­sidents may find the meeting agenda on the town website. The meeting may be viewed on Com­­­cast chan­­nel 99 and Veri­zon channel 33.

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