Acton Town Manager John Mangiaratti (left) and Medway Town Manager Michael Boynton (right)

Thomas Edison said, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” That is the case with two Massachusetts communities whose diligence in creating sound capital plans allowed them to take advantage of new funding opportunities. Notably, many of the projects that were the beneficiaries of the new dollars helped reduce risk and improve quality of life.

Capital planning is not new to Medway. Town Manager Michael Boynton said the town had an “elaborate, extensive and thorough” capital planning process in place when he came on board in 2014. The town’s two-part process determines if a project or equipment purchase is worthwhile, and, if so, includes a mechanism for funding.

The town of Acton’s capital planning process looks out 10 years, as opposed to five, which is common in most communities.

“The finance committee asked for a 10-year plan,” said Town Manager John Mangiaratti. “Doing so allowed us to look at longer term projects such as replacing a ladder truck or completing a building rehab.”

Getting work done
The water treatment and distribution facilities are a focus of capital planning in Medway. Medway Water Facility Building Committee Member Ted Kenney, formerly of the New England Water Works Association, said the long-term planning strategy led to a “paradigm shift” in town.

“Long ago, the focus was on keeping a ‘small town feel’ and low costs for ratepayers,” said Kenney.

But with extended planning and participation by experienced members of the community in the process, “The Select Board and residents embraced the need for the water projects and understood that undertaking them was important to public health.”

Through an integrated water resources management plan in 2015, the town identified that a centralized water treatment facility and upgrades to the 100-year-old distribution system were necessary, Boynton said.

“We had three challenges to address: capacity, delivery and quality,” Boynton said.

Town officials estimated it to be a $13 million project, but bids for just the first phase of improvements came in $7 million higher than anticipated. Because of the town’s comprehensive planning, however, they were able to make up the difference.

“In addition to rate funds, we were able to access $4 million in ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding, $1 million from a Chapter 40B host community agreement, $350,000 in state funds, and $2.75 million from a federal earmark,” Boynton said. “Each funding mechanism requested justification before handing over the funds. It was fast and simple for the town because we had all the details ready — and more importantly, community support for the project.”

Engage the community
Boynton and Mangiaratti cite community engagement as a key component of the planning process.

“We had a robust community engagement plan as part of our planning process,” Mangiaratti said. “We worked with the Finance Committee to come up with a list of projects that had been vetted and accelerated. Then we issued a community survey, presented before the Select Board, held several public meetings, and conducted outreach to partner organizations.

“When the ARPA funds became available, we got to use them versus spending time sorting out what to do with them, because we had done all of the planning in advance.”

Some of the risk-related projects Acton moved on included a storm water management plan, helping the water district address PFAS to improve water quality, and a study to examine a solution to septic system issues in the Great Road Corridor, among other renewable energy and sustainability efforts.

Boynton said Medway’s process was also a team effort.

“From the DPW’s boots on the ground determining work schedules, to the finance director, and volunteers from the building commission, water and sewer advisory and finance committees, as well as the select board’s support and community outreach campaigns,” he said, “we were successful when it came to town meeting this spring, with the $21 million water project passing unanimously.”

MIIA Executive Vice President Stan Corcoran applauded the efforts of the two communities.

“MIIA appreciates the work these two communities have undertaken to improve services and eliminate risks that could ultimately prove even more expensive than the projects themselves,” Corcoran said. “Their foresight and extensive planning processes are to be commended.”

Keep up the plans
Mangiaratti said it’s useful to plan for major expenses. The town’s most recent capital plan for fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2030 was published in December 2020 – well in advance of ARPA funds.

“Competition for grants and other funding opportunities can be tough,” Mangiaratti said. “It’s beneficial to have a long list prepared.”

When it comes to looking at projects, Kenney said, “Don’t think either/or, think both. With a road map charted out, you’ll be able to take advantage of funding opportunities that come along and can get more done.”

Written by Joyce McMahon, freelance writer