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Selectmen Steering $2.5 Million To Offset Hawley School HVAC Bonding



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The Board of Selectmen at its October 4 meeting unanimously approved using $2.5 million from American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds released to Newtown for the Hawley School HVAC project.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal stated that if the Hawley School HVAC project does not pass at referendum in November, the ARP funds can be used elsewhere.

Selectman Jeff Capeci asked if there was a reason that the money needed to be assigned for Hawley School now, and Rosenthal replied that it was to give voters full disclosure on how much the town would be bonding if they approved the project.

The appropriation for Hawley School was authorized in the capital improvement plan (2021-22 to 2025-26). The town will issue $8 million in bonds to borrow the amount, now minus the $2.5 million in ARP money. Voters will be asked to approve or reject the appropriation on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2.

“Hawley fits squarely within the parameters of uses [for ARP funds],” said Rosenthal.

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.

The town has until December 21, 2024, to allocate money from the disbursement and another year after that to spend it.

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 $7.6 million share of the money, it received half, or $3.8 million, this year and the other half be available for spending next year.

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 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.

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.” 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. 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.”

Rosenthal said that the list of possibilities are not complete, just some things to consider.

“I haven’t asked all the departments for a list,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal also said he felt it was best to keep items under consideration for ARP funds to items that have been considered for past budgets.

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

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