Borough Mulls Distribution Of American Rescue Plan Windfall
The Borough of Newtown’s Board of Burgesses has an unusual problem, having recently been notified it will receive more than a half-million dollars in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. The leaders have no idea how to spend it under the assortment of guidelines and limitations tied to the grant.
While it shares some services with the Town of Newtown, the Borough of Newtown is an independent municipality and qualified for its own allocation under ARP guidelines. During a Tuesday, July 13, burgesses meeting, Borough Warden Jay Maher said the borough has been “allotted significant money from the federal government,” but “one challenge is how the borough can utilize the funds.”
Any money spent must have a direct correlation to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, Maher said, noting that he talked with town officials, including First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Newtown Finance Director Robert Tait, and others.
He told the burgesses and Borough Treasurer Paula Brinkman that “no one is clear” what the borough can spend the money on that would fall within the bounds of the grant. The borough will receive $274,000 this year through the ARP, and another installment of $274,000 in 2022.
The six areas of allocations as detailed in paperwork submitted by Tait at a June 2 Legislative Council meeting are:
*Support public health response. Fund COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral health care, and certain public health and safety staff;
*Replace public sector revenue loss. Use funds to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic;
*Water and sewer infrastructure. Make necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water and invest in wastewater and storm water infrastructure;
*Address negative economic impacts. Respond to economic harms to workers, families, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector;
*Premium pay for essential workers. Offer additional support to those who have borne and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors; and
*Broadband infrastructure. Make necessary investments to provide unserved or underserved locations with new or expanded broadband access.
Conforming Is ‘Hot Topic’
During that June 2 meeting, Chair Paul Lundquist noted that it could be challenging to equate the expenditures with COVID-related losses, even for the town government.
“I think that might be a challenge,” he said, “but ultimately this could become a form of tax relief that could help citizens still struggling. It feels like it’s not an easy process to put in a request to meet these needs.”
Rosenthal, who attended, agreed, saying conforming to expenditure guidelines is a hot topic among municipal officials. Rosenthal noted that officials are concerned about targeting funds for projects only to learn later that they somehow do not qualify; for these reasons, officials know that towns should not reduce budgets in anticipation of promised ARP disbursements.
According to Borough Senior Burgess Chris Gardner, from a financial standpoint, there are a “lot of questions on” exactly what the money could be used for.
“It’s tight on what we can use it for,” said Burgess Jim Gaston, who wondered if the money could be used to build new sidewalks in the area.
Commenting that the grant gives support for economic development, Burgess Bill Lucas noted, “You can’t do that without sidewalks.” However, without further research into the matter, the board is unsure if sidewalks would be a permitted use.
Gardner wondered, since water and sewer infrastructure are an allowable use, if it would be possible to utilize funding to pay the borough’s water bill. Board members also wondered if the money could be used for tax relief to borough residents, or if the money could go to the Edmond Town Hall Theater, which suffered a substantial hit to its business during the pandemic.
Movies returned to the theater in June, and several live concerts and other public events are already scheduled into the fall and winter.
The money will be deposited into an account while the borough determines how it can be used within the scope of federal guidelines. The borough received a payment of $290,000, more than the $274,000 they were supposed to receive.
Mahaer said the extra $15,000 must be paid back to the federal government. The borough has four years to utilize the authorized funds, after which it will be required to return any remaining allocation to the federal government.
“We’ve got time,” said Gaston. “Let’s do our research and see what we can do.”
Historic Signs And Sidewalks
In other Borough of Newtown Board of Burgesses news, the board showed a mock-up for proposed historic district signs that will mark the boundaries of the district. The white-and-black signs received positive remarks from the board.
“I think it looks great,” said Gaston.
Maher was relieved to see the signs met the zoning requirement of being five square feet or less. The signs will be presented to the Borough of Newtown Historic District Commission for approval.
“We’ll work on getting an application together and go see our friends on the Historic District Commission,” said Maher.
Maher said plans for the construction of sidewalks on Sugar Street have been drawn up and they have the necessary funding. Next, they will be run by the Sidewalk Ad Hoc Commission, and then will be publicly unveiled to the Board of Burgesses at next month’s meeting.
“We have the plans and we have the check,” Maher said. “Those are two positive things in borough life.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.