Fitchburg Grant Funds OK’d for Homeless, Drug Programs
FITCHBURG -- Appropriations the City Council took up Tuesday to fund projects using the federal Community Development Block Grant program came with discussion about the impact of city efforts like homeless street intervention and drug enforcement.
“I know a lot of you feel that we have to tackle the homeless problem, but I believe that we’re bringing in more homeless than we are helping the people of Fitchburg,” said Ward 2 Councilor Paul Beauchemin, speaking in opposition to a $28,000 appropriation for Our Father’s House.
Several councilors spoke in favor of the funding and how the organization has helped people in the city.
“We’re not just throwing money at them,” said At-Large Councilor Anthony Zarrella. “The program is aimed at not just providing for our population, but aiding them in not being homeless any longer, which is exactly what we need to be doing. That’s the goal, right?”
Councilors approved the funding 8-1.
Another order Beauchemin spoke about was $60,000 for the Fitchburg Police Department’s drug enforcement and patrol project, which he suggested cutting in half to invest in city youth programs.
The department is doing a good job, but based on media reports he’s seen, he said, there has been a shift in getting people treatment.
“It’s time that we change what we do and it’s time that we do it (with) a different approach,” Beauchemin said.
Instead, the other $30,000 could be invested in the Boys & Girls Club after-school transportation program, the YMCA Spartacus Program, and for youth services at the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center.
Other councilors agreed that there should be more support for youth programs, but said they trust Police Chief Ernest Martineau about the need for funding for ongoing drug enforcement efforts.
“Not everyone who is a target of drug enforcement is a helpless addict,” Zarrella said. “There are a substantial number of people -- there have to be -- to keep the system running and are deliberately pushing these things.”
Without all enforcement, all the youth programs in the world won’t work if children are in neighborhoods where people of the drug trade operate, he said.
Councilors approved the funding 8-1.
Beauchemin also spoke against a $30,000 appropriation for Fitchburg State University to create a downtown coordinator position, which he found redundant.
At-Large Councilor Marcus DiNatale said he would rather it be funded through CDBG grants than the budget to “see how it goes.” He added that city employees shouldn’t spend so much time planning community events.
The vote was 7-2 for the appropriation. Beauchemin and At-Large Councilor Sam Squailia voted against it.
The council approved all other CDBG appropriations unanimously.
In other business, the council authorized Mayor Stephen DiNatale to execute a community host agreement with Stalk & Beans Inc. that looks to open a testing laboratory at 143 John Fitch Highway.
Its impact fee will be $5,000 for a five-year period, according to the agreement.
Stalk & Beans also will form a community relations board and looks to follow policies of the state’s Social Equity Program to encourage participation by people from communities that have been harmed by marijuana prohibition.
The business already has a community host agreement to operate as a third-party transporter based at 431 Westminster St.
Host agreements with The Hub Craft LLC, which seeks to open a medical and recreational cultivation facility at 25 Newport St., and Fresh Connection Boston, LLC, which plans to open a recreational cultivator and processing facility at 175 Kimball St., were referred to the Legislative Affairs Committee.
City Solicitor Vincent Pusateri said there will be a shift in host agreement plans and it’s something he wants to start talking about.
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