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Middlesex seeks more federal grant funding

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MIDDLESEX — A U.S. Department of Agriculture public works grant proposal originally approved for $89,923 was amended to a request for more than triple that amount during Monday’s town board meeting.

After January’s federal government shutdown, Middlesex Mayor Lu Harvey Lewis said the grant administrator told him the parameters for the grant had changed.

“When she came back to work, she said we need to go ahead and submit everything that we might want,” said Lewis.

The amended proposal, valued at $314,176, includes additional “wish list” items such as zero-turn lawnmowers, a jetter, trucks for public works and the police department, playground equipment for Hanes Park and generators for each of the town’s lift stations.

The original proposal approved in January covered four pieces of equipment: a new Bandit chipper with box, $39,023; a 100-kilowatt, three-phase generator for well 5, $25,000; a Massey Ferguson GC 1705 4-by-4 tractor with 60-inch belly mower, $10,900; and a zero-turn 52-54 inch mower, $8,000.

The USDA grant combines an outright grant for 75 percent of the cost and a low-interest seven-year loan to cover the remainder. Lewis said the town would use a $40,000 previously received grant for playground equipment to offset the amount of the loan.

“We were putting together a wish list and think we might be able to get the money, so it’s on here,” Lewis said. “These are things that we need. We could use all of these things.”

A public hearing to discuss the grant was approved for the beginning of April’s town meeting.

A workshop to begin piecing together next year’s town budget also was approved to immediately follow April’s meeting, even though the audit for this year’s budget has yet to be finalized.

When asked if the workshop would be open to the public, Lewis said he would have to do some research make sure it was possible, but he did not have an issue with it.

During the public comment session, a couple residents raised concerns about Lewis’ plans to enforce the public comment policy enacted in 2016. The policy states that residents who would like to be placed on the agenda should make a request in writing to the mayor that includes the person’s name, phone number, affiliation, subject matter and amount of time requested. Requests must be received the Thursday prior to the monthly town meeting. However, the board has largely disregarded that policy, and it has not been consistently enforced.

“Sometime back, our attorney told us we could do that with the agenda items. We haven’t been putting it in place and really don’t want to put it in place as long as it don’t get out of hand,” Lewis said.

After a brief closed session, the board approved the hiring of Cody Wilson as a permanent full-time employee with benefits at the rate of $12.50 per hour.