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Joint Workgroup Begins Review Of ARP Spending



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Though part of what to do with Newtown’s $7.67 million allotment from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) has been decided — $2.5 million is going towards the Hawley School HVAC project — the town still has roughly $5.1 million left to allocate. So a six-person workgroup comprised of members from the Legislative Council, Board of Finance, and Board of Selectmen (BOS) met January 10 to begin considering the possibilities.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said the workgroup would help the three town bodies reach a consensus on how to use the funding, instead of various proposals wending their way through approval processes and deliberations involving all three bodies that could result in modifications at each step.

Finance Director Bob Tait gave members of the American Rescue Plan Working Group a list compiled of requests from town department heads on possible uses for the funding. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal noted that all these items are requests for consideration; the list is not a final proposal of how to use the funding.

Many items may be taken off or even added; additionally, the town could spend part of its allotment now and save part for future items that may come up.

“These are some things the departments have requested,” said Rosenthal. “I’m not passing judgement on them one way or another. These are a list of things that could qualify for discussion. We all have to get comfortable with whether these things make sense [to spend the money on] or not.”

Rosenthal said all of the items were one-time purchases rather than recurring items that would have to be budgeted for in future budgets. He also felt that since the items were things that the town would spend money on sooner or later anyway, they would “benefit everyone” by keeping the mill rate down.

A Variety Of Ideas

The list includes: $1.5 million for replacing the water distribution system at the Fairfield Hills campus; $50,000 for safety improvements at the Fairfield Hills campus; $140,000 for a roof for the Public Works multi-purpose building; $240,000 for a Public Works six-wheel, eight-ton dump truck; $300,000 for a front-end bucket loader; $200,000 for transfer station site improvements; and $100,000 for Municipal Building improvements.

In addition, committee members will consider a request for $50,000 for fire suppression tank repairs; $15,000 grants to each of the four fire companies, Newtown Underwater Search And Rescue, and Newtown Ambulance; $90,000 for a Parks & Recreation dump truck; $40,000 for a disc golf course at Treadwell Park; $300,000 for a pavilion replacement at Dickinson Park; $85,000 for a bike park at Fairfield Hills; and $50,000 for the Art Walk at Fairfield Hills.

Also, $90,000 for a 14 passenger bus for the Senior Center; $35,294 for COVID supplies and expenses; $75,000 for a generator at the Community Center; $75,000 for an outside storage building at the Community Center; $155,000 for a patio at the Community Center; $200,000 for outdoor spray features at the Community Center; $16,000 for handicap doors at the Senior Center; $122,000 for information technology licenses to address COVID-19 pandemic recovery for the schools; $145,000 for chrome books for distance learning at the schools; and $325,000 to reimburse the town medical self-insurance fund for COVID expenses since March 3, 2021.

Board of Selectmen member Ed Schieroh asked Rosenthal what “the vision” is for how the work group should move forward. Rosenthal asked that the group members look over the list, think about what is there, and come back with questions at the next meeting — expected to be at 6:30 pm January 27.

Rosenthal said there was “good news” on how the town can use the ARP money.

Previously, he said the money could only be used for a set of six defined categories related to the pandemic, with a small portion — roughly $2.5 million — that could be used outside those categories as “revenue loss.” However, the final plan for how the funding could be used has been released and the revenue loss portion has been increased to $10 million, meaning the town can use the funds however it pleases.

However, work group members felt it would be best to try and adhere to the categories for at least some of the spending, to stay “in the spirit” of the grant.

ARP Guidelines

According to the US Department of the Treasury, ARP funds can be used by the town for the following:

*Support public health expenditures, by, for example, funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral health care, and certain public health and safety staff.

*Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector.

*Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic.

*Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.

*Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and storm water infrastructure, and to expand access to broadband internet.

“Within these overall categories, recipients have broad flexibility to decide how best to use this funding to meet the needs of their communities,” states the treasury website.

Rosenthal noted that the ARP requires anything that funds are used for not be a “recurring item” — so for instance a new position with a salary would not be an approved use of the money. Any recurring items would have to be funded by the town’s normal operating budget in future years. Additionally, ARP funding cannot be applied directly to the budget as revenue to directly reduce the mill rate.

Finance Director Robert Tait said that the ARP disbursed $1.56 billion to counties and towns, and $3.93 billion to residents across the country. Of the town’s $7.67 million share of the money, it received half, or $3.8 million, this year and the other half will be available for spending next year.

Rosenthal said at an August BOS meeting that even though the town does not have to do formal appropriations to spend ARP money, he felt it was better to follow the prescribed process in the Newtown Charter as funds are allocated. Rosenthal’s thinking was it creates a paper trail should the federal government question how Newtown applied the funds, as well as showing taxpayers how those funds were used.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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