Board Of Selectmen Discusses American Rescue Plan Money
With a number of big expenses coming and $7.6 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds awaiting disbursement, the Board of Selectmen initiated discussion about possible uses for the money September 20. No vote was taken and further deliberation is expected to occur at the October 4 selectmen’s meeting.
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 $7.6 million share of the money, it received half, or $3.8 million, this year and the other half be available for spending next year.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said 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 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.
“I think we should do this for transparency,” said Rosenthal. “It’s the most sensible thing to do, so it’s all recorded. That way is the best way.”
Rosenthal felt one of the better uses for the funding was the Hawley HVAC project, which is being partially underwritten by a school board surplus along with anticipated bonding. Using the grant for something the town would otherwise bond would save the town money on interest. Rosenthal said it was important for voters to know how much of the project would be paid for using the grant when they are asked to approve the project in November.
“If we use this, we save on bonding costs — it’s a wise financial decision,” said Selectman Jeff Capeci.
If voters do not favor approving the Hawley project, ARP money can be applied elsewhere. Rosenthal said it was “important to get the ball rolling” on how much to spend on the Hawley project so it can go through the Board of Finance and Legislative Council in time to get on the Election Day ballot November 2 for voter consideration.
The town has until December 21, 2024, to allocate money from the disbursement and another year after that to spend it. 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.
Some other things the town could use the money for besides the Hawley project are new WiFi routers at the Community Center and Municipal Center, which selectmen indicated were working poorly; a new roof for the municipal center; and vehicle cameras for the Police Department.
Rosenthal said that all police cruisers have cameras but the current ones are “starting to fail.”
“If we take care of some of these things with ARP funds, it takes pressure off of the operating budget,” Rosenthal said.
Other ideas included a patio at the Community Center, a campus bicycle park at Fairfield Hills, and a Dickinson Park pavilion renovation for the Parks & Recreation Department.
“Those are some ideas, I’m sure more will come out,” said Rosenthal.
Also noted was the possibility of giving some form of grants to businesses that have been hurt by COVID-19, but Rosenthal said that would be a “challenge to administer.”
“What money do we give any one business?,” asked Rosenthal. “How do we do so to maintain confidentiality, how do we not miss people? I think the cause is noble, but how do you do that in an equitable fashion?”
Because of that, Rosenthal said his belief was that it was “better off to do things that would take the sting out of the mill rate.”
“Business and residents alike feel the sting when the mill rate goes up,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal said it was best to use the ARP funds on items that are definitely going to end up in the operating budget, like the police cameras, rather than on “wish list items.”
“If the [federal] government shoots down something, I don’t want to be saying, ‘well shoot, we wouldn’t have done that without the extra money,’” Rosenthal said.
Capeci said he wanted to “weight the trade-offs,” and Rosenthal stated he would discuss the funds further with Tait to “look at different scenarios and what bonding costs would look like.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.