WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

AGAWAM — West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt told the business community at a recent West of the River Chamber of Commerce breakfast that the town’s budget outlook was “grimmer than it has been in the past.” Specifically, he cited state representatives telling him not to expect any funding earmarks this year.

“Your taxes will not be going down,” he said. “But we hope to maintain them as we go forward at the same time as building out the infrastructure and making sure we can maintain services across the community without any kind of crazy hikes.”

Agawam Mayor Christopher Johnson.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

Asked how he’ll maintain services, Reichelt said he’d give a public presentation in May on the subject. The town’s regular operating budget is due on May 1, he said, and the School Committee will begin working on the budget in March.

Reichelt, along with Agawam Mayor Christopher Johnson, also told business leaders their towns are trying to avoid implementing stormwater fees. Johnson said the federal Environmental Protection Agency is mandating the town have a stormwater protection ordinance.

“The EPA is coming down on all the cities and towns and saying, ‘These are your mandates and you must clean and maintain stormwater systems,’ most of which are decades and decades  and decades old, and there just is not a sufficient revenue stream available,” he said.

Johnson said Agawam has been using American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for stormwater work. In response to the letter, he said he will get the EPA’s request onto the City Council agenda.

Reichelt said West Springfield’s stormwater system is overworked due to the increasing severity of storms. The town, he said, has spent the past six years trying to create a stormwater fee or stormwater utility that makes sense. He said businesses won’t have the capacity to take care of a system they expect the municipality to pay for.

“It’s a big problem that we’re going to have to face sooner rather than later as we go forward,” he said.

For the most part, the mayors touted and answered questions about their town’s recent infrastructure projects. Reichelt said the rotary planned for the intersection of Elm and Westfield streets will start taking shape this summer, and might be finished early.

“We’ll see that downtown kind of be regenerated,” he said. “If you’ve ever been to Hudson, Mass., they have a similar downtown to what we’re trying to do.”

Reichelt said a bid was awarded to add a bike lane on Riverdale Street from Interstate 91 to the Holyoke city line. He also said that work on Memorial Avenue should be done in 2026, and will cost $30 million.

“It survived two Big Es now, being under construction,” he said. “When it is done, it is going to be nice to look at for hopefully a few years.”

Johnson said work on Meadow Street’s drainage problems is paused for the winter, but will start again in the spring. Most of the drainage work is done, he said, but water and sewer lines still need to be replaced.

West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

Asked if any ARPA funds were going to behavioral health initiatives, Reichelt said there were no specific allocations, but that the town has hired a social worker and a clinician that both work with the Police Department. The town is hoping to use ARPA funds this year and make space in the budget next year, he said, to hire a homeless liaison to work with the library, Senior Center, and Health Department.

Asked what businesses should know about the Agawam High School building project, Johnson said the town was in the “schematic design phase,” where architects devise the new school’s floor plans.

He recounted the construction plans he outlined in a February public information meeting, including plans to convert the former industrial arts wing into an early childhood center. The early childhood center, he said, is not eligible for Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement funds, but reusing part of the old high school will cost half the price of building a new structure.

He said the current high school’s outdated HVAC system and roof were concerns, as well as the control system, which was made by companies that no longer exist. He said 40% of the school was without heat in December, and a new control pack had to be retrofitted.

“It’s really a choice between building a new school and getting new modern technology, or limping along with what we have,” he said.

Johnson also said the school is on probation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges because the it doesn’t have necessary, modern technology, and the town can’t afford to lose NEASC accreditation.

He asked voters to do their research before the special election June 11 on whether to authorize a tax increase to pay for the project.

“Make your decision based upon the facts,” he said. “Please don’t rely on what you see on social media and assume that it’s true.”

tlederer@thereminder.com | + posts