New Bedford's $64.7 million question

If you had $64.7 million to spend for the City of New Bedford, what would you do?

Excluding school aid, that’s the amount in federal pandemic relief money coming to New Bedford from the American Rescue Plan Act. New Bedford Light readers continue to share their ideas on how to put those funds to good use.

If you haven’t already read the story that sparked this conversation, check it out here. If you want to add your thoughts, please use our form and include your contact information.

City officials are also asking for comments on how New Bedford should spend its $64.7 million in ARPA funds. Visit the city’s website to learn more.

Following are some of the responses we received:

Invest in projects with lasting impact

The windfall should be largely invested in projects that will have lasting impact, while also supplementing public safety. Arterial streets need to be repaved along with neighborhood streets deemed by DPW to be in the worst shape. This will enhance the city’s state-funded street assistance.

Public safety needs enhancement: equipment, the stations and personnel should all be examined for improvement. What are New Bedford’s “base” economic industries and institutions? Fishing, waterfront industrial, marine recreational facilities, the airport, and the industrial park all have physical deficiencies that should be addressed, this strengthening the city’s economy. Public buildings have physical needs that should be addressed, saving the city bonded on budgeted funds.

The city’s recreational facilities serve various neighborhoods and should be enhanced wherever truly necessary. While all these statements sound somewhat noncommittal, they really are not.

I would rely on the city departmental priority lists for physical investments/improvements, and those lists should be published and utilized when investing the windfall.

A grab-bag approach will result in a wasted opportunity to bring lasting improvement to the city.

—Richard Walega, Port Charlotte Fla. (former city planner)

Improve access to Acushnet River

My submission on behalf of the New Bedford Rowing Center, a 501(c)(3) established in 2010, long active in introducing city youth and adults to the Acushnet River, one stroke at a time:

ARPA funding can help provide Greater New Bedford youth and adults with equitable access to the historic Acushnet River through rowing, paddling, and other human-powered, ecologically sound activities that promote community, character, environmental stewardship, and a life-long commitment to healthy living.

The City of New Bedford has already allocated water frontage on Popes Island and adjacent to Market Basket to these activities, judging them to be well worth supporting. ARPA funding can complete the infrastructure necessary to support the optimal use of these sites. Specifically:

  • A buoyed 1,500-meter race course north of the Coggeshall Street bridge (to stimulate local youth-oriented rowing, sculling, dragon boat racing, and kayaking. Such a course would also attract visiting teams in these sports, lowering the cost of travel for local teams.) Estimated cost: $75,000.
  • Cement bulkhead and float system at the Market Basket location reserved for rowing access (to permit expansion and growth of high school/junior rowing.) Estimated cost: $200,000 ($2,000 per linear foot) for the bulkhead; $50,000 for a low-profile float system capable of launching/landing a half-dozen eight-oared shells at a time. NOTE: The speed of launching and landing rowing “shells” and other craft greatly affects the capacity of a facility, given the limited amount of practice time after school (approximately 2½ hours, from 2:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.)
  • Gangways and float system at Popes Island location (to permit expansion and growth of middle school/youth rowing as after-school activity and feeder program.) Estimated cost: $50,000.

Supplying the infrastructure necessary to support and expand these rowing and paddling activities would expand the role of the Acushnet River in city life from that of a highway for commercial craft and parking lot for luxury craft into the equivalent of an additional multi-acre city park , including the equivalent of athletic fields, accessible to youth and adults at low- or no-cost, through means that are safe, healthy, enjoyable, and compatible with existing uses.

Worth noting: New Bedford should own rowing, given rowing’s contribution to the rise of the city during its whaling era. Early rowing races on the Acushnet date back to 4th of July regattas in the mid-1800s. Developing a “Row New Bedford” initiative would raise the city’s profile in direct competition with similar efforts by other leading cities in the process of recapturing their waterfronts, efforts such as Row Boston, Row New York, Row Chicago, etc.

No doubt, such an effort would lead to natives of New Bedford representing the United States in Olympic competition. The US Rowing Team is the third-largest US Olympic contingent (37) after track and swimming, despite a cap on the number of events.

—Rick Porteus, New Bedford Rowing Center

Fix roads, plant trees, offer training for offshore wind jobs

 I would immediately utilize some of these funds for city infrastructure as the mayor.

The roads have been historically in disrepair for decades. For example, what gives with Cottage / Willis Street disrepair (2.5 years now)? Are they digging for gold?

The trash and litter in our community is impressive. Why is that? I would promote civic pride by educating the residents about the harmful effects of litter and offering incentives to maintain. Let’s plant more trees and fund neighborhood coalitions to build a stronger community.

I would offer any resident of New Bedford free training and an eventual position in the offshore wind industry.

We need livable-wage jobs that lift people out of the profound poverty that many families with children are experiencing and have been for decades.

Subsidize rental units to prevent dislocation of families that will be eventually pushed out due to the gentrification of the rail headed our way. If New Bedford rents become unaffordable, where will these families and students live?

Culture is what makes this city great.

Finally, I would offer funding to coalitions that assist in the integration of people from different cultures into the New Bedford community. Grant money for identification, drivers licenses, car registrations, security deposits. Give people the tools to do better and they will.

— Sandra Spoor, New Bedford 

Make museums free for kids

Follow Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s lead and make all museums and cultural institutions free for children during August and even into the fall …

It’s huge for kids and families; it’s a great way to get people downtown; and an absolute lifeline to help the important cultural sector of New Bedford rebound on visitation.

Thanks for your great reporting!

— Amanda McMullen, President and CEO, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Balance the pension account

Pay down the deficit in the pension account.

— Martin Lipman, New Bedford

Homeless shelters, shuttle buses and bike sharing

Maybe investing in a cluster of tiny weatherproof, locking shelters for the homeless with 1 central “house” for cooking, dining and wifi; and communal bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, just safe and clean. Near the downtown camping areas already there near the highway.

Free shuttle buses on a fixed schedule to go from Whale’s Tail parking lot up and down to businesses in NB.

Bike lanes and shared bikes.

— Gail Davidson, Dartmouth

Extend rail lines to boost the economy

I would recommend using this money to extend the rail line south from State Pier to the new freight terminal.

Having a direct ship-t0-rail capability can only strengthen New Bedford’s economic base.

My understanding is that this rail extension can be accomplished without having to take any property by eminent domain.

— Bob Maker, New Bedford

Keep the city clean … and plant more trees

Our city could take on big projects, and that would certainly make a difference to pockets of the community. To read that the community and City Council will be involved in financial decision-making both excites and worries me. I would love it if City Council was actually involved in the community in the first place. I see their names on ballots, but never their faces at community events or introducing themselves to business and organizational leaders.

As someone who walks the sidewalks and engages in several city sectors, some basic service upgrades should be tended to including: removing trash on sidewalks/roadways and landscaping maintenance — both simple steps that just need to be acted upon more often. Can we clean up our city please? I’m not just talking about Downtown, which gets the most love. The city’s incredible DPI team is stretched thin and needs more resources. I feel they are key to beautifying our city and further engaging civic pride, but that means adding additional DPI staffing and funds.

Then after that — keep pushing the New Bedford tree-planting initiative and add shade covers to the bus service pick-up areas or over benches. Give a better life to our fellow citizens by increasing basic city services and those who visit will see NB as the beautiful urban home that it is.

And why, oh why, do the buses not run on Sundays? When are the working people supposed to get groceries from Market Basket or go relax on the grass at the Fort? I digress. There are some basic and important city services that need TLC and I believe the problem is lack of funding.

— Lindsay Mis, New Bedford

Just fix the roads …

Pave the roads! The streets are crumbling.

— William Trimble, New Bedford

Zeiterion upgrade and an ocean view

Please make the Zeiterion a top destination. It is already great but time to complete it. I would also like the city to purchase a marina for recreational purposes as we cannot see the ocean for the fishing boats triple parked.

— Sandra J. Hall, New Bedford  

Prevent homelessness amid evictions

New Bedford is just beginning to experience an eruption of evictions and foreclosures as the moratorium ends. It is obvious that the city needs to financially support its landlords, tenants and homeowners to assist in mitigating the obvious impact that housing displacement will cause in the schools, local economy, etc.

Note: As a follow-up to my comment on yesterday’s article about how New Bedford should spend some of its $64.7 million in federal funds … This Boston Globe editorial gets it spot on.

— Peter Muise, Marion

Let students replace water pipes

Have vocational students intern to replace water pipes; put all of the overhead wires underground; replace roads; buy empty lots and abandoned housing to create low-cost housing; and fund mental health counseling!

— Joanne Correia, New Bedford

How about some waterfront condos?

Spacious and affordable Senior condos on the waterfront for us retiring baby-boomers, please.

— Sara King, via Facebook comments  

Hire journalists, help schools and honor Portuguese

The $64 million Question: I have a few ideas. One is Journalist Employers of Last Resort, J.E.L.R. This is a take-off of the ELR concept developed by advocates of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). They believe that the government should employ people during economic downturns instead of making them suffer. The excuse used for letting unemployment rise is the belief that lowering the unemployment rate will cause inflation. This theory has been disproved in recent years so MMT advocates support programs that will guarantee jobs through the public sector, issued locally by local governments. It’s also an alternative to the Guaranteed Income proposal.

This idea might work for journalism as well. With ghost newspapers, low voter turnout in most elections, and a low political IQ of most voters on local issues, it might make sense for a city like New Bedford to put some serious resources ($1 million) into a local media project. A door-to-door outreach would probably cost less than $100,000. It could be started with elected officials doing a one- or two-day volunteer canvass where they asked residents what they knew about local government, who their elected officials were, what their local media sources were, what issues did they care about?

The city could also fund journalists, but only if they were protected with a just cause provision in their contract. Europeans subsidize their journalists with a voucher program where they can give the voucher to the media outlet of their choice. Creating a local model might inspire a national project for a local journalism stimulus project.

The city could also look into funding counseling students from New Bedford who attend UMass Dartmouth and BCC helping them to graduate. The UMass graduation rate is 48 percent, and BCC is 25 percent (see college results online). David Kirp wrote a good book on this issue and interviews with him appears on YouTube and CSPAN.

The School Committee, including the mayor, spend a lot of time on making the school system successful, but when students get to college the dropout rate is a scandal.

The third issue is how NB Portuguese should be honored for helping fiscally save Mass., which I could explain to you as well. The protest at City Hall before the Prop. 2½ vote and the classification campaign helped tremendously in the win for the state. California, on the other hand, lost classification or what they call split role. To understand how important that was, look at the short video by Robert Reich (Make it Fair Ca.) and the effort to bring back their version of classification, which recently lost in large part because of the pandemic.

A good hitter goes one for three. I hope at least one of these is a hit.

— Craig Williams, New Bedford

If you want to add your thoughts to this conversation, please use our form and include your contact information.

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