Appleton — Am ambitious proposal to fund four projects with free federal money was put on hold Sept. 6 when the Appleton Select Board postponed action until it has better cost figures.

The delay was unanimously agreed on by the board after some tense moments focused on one of the proposed projects — construction of a niche wall to hold cremated remains at the town’s near-capacity Pine Grove Cemetery, and creation nearby of a scattering garden for ashes.

The proposals came from the town’s ARPA Committee. It was convened to recommend how to spend the the municipality’s $144,650 share of $350 billion allocated in 2021’s American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, to help communities deal with Covid-related and other needs.

In addition to the niche wall, or columbarium, the committee proposed a filtering system for arsenic laden water at city hall and the fire station; more dry hydrants with attendant easement purchases, and a fireproof records area at the town office.

Although no formal estimates have been solicited or received, the committee in its report presented likely costs as follows: $12,000 for water treatment; dry hydrants, $15,000; fireproofing, $5,000; and $97,500 of the total it’s thought will be needed for the niche wall, $130,000.

The report noted the committee “discussed” funding the niche wall with up to 75 percent of the ARPA money.

That would be by far the biggest amount on a single project, and the one the committee identified as of least importance of the four.

The remainder of niche wall funds might be raised by donations and sales of space in the wall for funerary urns, according to the committee report.

Select Board Chair Lorie Costigan was on the now disbanded five-member ARPA Committee, as was board member Scott Esancy, who served as chair.

Both spoke in favor of the proposals at the Sept. 6 meeting.

Esancy called the niche wall “a little forward thinking” for the town because the cemetery can accommodate only about 46 more graves and the trend is to more cremations.

Costigan said a company that builds niche walls has offered to look at Appleton’s needs.

She made a motion, seconded by Charles Garrigan, to approve the committee’s four priority projects and move forward even though the precise costs are “somewhat unknown.”

That’s when board vice chair Peter Beckett raised a list of concerns.

Although he’ said he was OK with the first three priority items, he wondered if more cemetery land could be bought, asked if the city is “legally bound to provide” cemetery lots, noted the inexact cost of the niche wall, wondered if federal money remained for broadband improvements — and he made it clear he really did not know what the board was being asked to approve.

“Are we saying we approve doing these things?” he asked.

“I would like to see more information; I don’t know what we are approving. It’s too early to vote to actually do it,” he said.

In response, Esancy acknowledged that approval meant there would be no ARPA money left for broadband.

He said that while more land might be purchased for the cemetery, there are possible water table questions to be resolved on the neighboring parcel.

As for providing plots for people, Costigan said, although not precisely to Beckett’s point, that under state law municipalities are “obligated” to maintain (cemetery) plots even if they are on private land, something Appleton currently does, she added.

Beckett persisted in voicing concerns and, in the end, made a motion, seconded by Garrigan, to move forward by getting good cost estimates for the projects and bring the matter back to the board for further discussion. The motion passed unanimously.

In an interview the next day, Beckett, said the broadband matter was important to him and he was surprised it was not part of the discussion because the board had already made one attempt to secure grant money that didn’t pan out.

And he was bothered, he said, by the possibility of an “approval to move ahead when we haven’t got the proper facts and figures, that was just mind boggling to me, that the board would say yes, let’s do this, without having the proper numbers.”

David Flanagan was a member of the five-person ARPA committee. The day after matter was delayed, he said he believes the board did the right thing in opting to study the issue further.

“I don’t disagree,” he said. “I think that is what the committee agreed on on that item, that’s what was discussed; I don’t think there was enough of a plan to move forward at that meeting.”

And specifically on the committee’s own discussion in coming up with its cemetery proposal, he said, “We ended up with as many questions as there were answers.”