The day – Cities, cities that should receive a windfall of COVID aid, reflect on how to spend it


It is one thing to approve $ 1.9 trillion in US bailout aid for the country, including $ 65.1 billion for its 19,000 municipalities. It is another to determine how all of these towns, villages and villages can spend money.

Federal largesse, intended to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, will funnel $ 2.6 billion to municipalities in Connecticut, including $ 1.6 billion for public administrations and $ 1 billion for schools. The government share includes $ 870 million in aid to cities and $ 691 million to counties, which, in the absence of county government in the state, will be distributed to municipalities on a per capita basis.

A total of $ 114.4 million is for New London County governments, which includes $ 63 million in direct grants to towns and villages as well as a county allocation of $ 51.4 million. .

The county’s two “empowered towns” – New London and Norwich – are expected to receive $ 21.8 million and $ 21.5 million directly, respectively, with almost 38% of the total going directly to county municipal governments.

So far the only direction the federal government has provided on spending the money is what is spelled out in the American Rescue Plan Act itself, which Congress has passed and President Joe Biden has enacted. March 11, according to Mike Muszynski, head of state-federal relations. for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

“There is still some ambiguity as to what is eligible,” Muszynski said.

The CCM has postponed a webinar it had scheduled for city leaders last Wednesday on eligible uses of ARP funds indefinitely until the US Treasury Department provides more information. The CCM hopes that the guidance will be available at the end of April, as towns and cities set their budgets for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Amid the uncertainty, New London Mayor Michael Passero has said he will not include ARP funding in his budget proposal.

“Our plans are to go through the budget process and adopt an operating budget for the city by the end of May. We should know a lot more by then, ”he said. “I expect to engage city council in almost like a second budget appropriation process. The idea is to continue to make investments that will continue to pay off in the future, build economic prosperity and meet the human needs of the community that have not been met and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Passero said the city would likely seek to reinstate a grant program that provides funding for social services and business needs.

Help workers, businesses, nonprofits

The guidance provided so far by the Treasury Department identifies four areas in which ARP funds can be applied, which the CCM has published on its website,

• Respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its economic impact, including helping households, small businesses and non-profits, or helping affected industries such as tourism, travel and the hotel industry.

• Respond to workers performing essential work during the pandemic by paying bonuses to local officials or providing subsidies to employers of essential workers.

• Provide government services limited by the effect of the pandemic on revenues collected during the fiscal year preceding the emergency.

• Make the necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Muszynski said the CCM responded to calls from local officials across the state asking them to use ARP funds. CCM, in turn, worked with the National League of Cities, which compiled a list of questions from across the country and submitted them to the Treasury Department.

“We are in regular contact with them,” said Muszynski.

But things are at a standstill, he added, pending action from the Treasury Department, which has 60 days from Biden signing the ARP law to begin channeling the funds. . It is anticipated that the department will likely take most of this time to provide the guidance.

“In the meantime, we’re working with our members saying, ‘Hey, think of ways you can use the money based on what you know you need,’” Muszynski said.

Norwich City Manager John Salomone said he had general and specific ideas on how to use the $ 21.5 million in municipal aid the city expects to receive, but which ‘he will wait for further advice and direction before committing to any expenditure.

Salomone will appoint a task force with members of the city’s main departments, including public works, human services and human resources, as well as police and fire officials, Norwich public services and others. agencies. He promised that the task force would be representative of Norwich’s diverse population and would be invited to “explore all options”.

NPU, which does not receive funds directly, suffered heavy financial losses due to the pandemic, as its gross revenues in fiscal year 2019-2020 fell by $ 5.2 million. While many businesses are reopening or more fully opening, Salomone is concerned that NPU revenues may be further affected this fiscal year.

If the capital projects qualify, he said, historic Norwich Town Hall could use ventilation upgrades and, with limited meeting room capacity, would like to consider renovating the fourth floor. unused for meeting room space.

Arts organizations are candidates for funding, Salomone said, as are investments in economic development, promoting tourism and helping restaurants looking to expand abroad.

The cultural coalition promotes

In Stonington, which is expected to receive $ 1.8 million in government funding, First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said the money could be used to help fund much-needed upgrades to town hall and building HVAC systems. The capital improvement budget has been reduced over the past two years.

She said she would also ask the Finance Council to consider allocating 1%, or about $ 18,000, of the money to the Southeast Connecticut Cultural Coalition, which she says can then respond to questions. funding requests, some of which would go to Stonington. organizations.

“The bottom line is that we don’t want to rush into how to use it,” she said.

The cultural coalition, in fact, recommends that the 43 municipalities it serves in eastern Connecticut devote at least 1% of their ARP allocation to local arts and culture. In a letter to city officials, Wendy Bury, the executive director of the coalition, suggests ways to use aid to help arts organizations, including providing grants; hiring artists to work on public health messages regarding COVID-19 vaccine reluctance; and hiring musicians and theater groups to perform in downtown areas in need of revitalization.

Groton City Manager John Burt, whose city will receive $ 3.8 million in ARP funding, said his priority was to help businesses affected by COVID-19 and homeowners facing foreclosures.

“The ability to pay rent and utilities is very important for the city to monitor, but we are currently providing funds for this purpose and there is a new state program, UniteCT, which is providing funds for these purposes,” did he declare.

Other possible uses of ARP money include helping nonprofits; summer programs for children; loans / grants for home repairs; child care support and programs to improve community health; and fiber / infrastructure, although this can be addressed through a federal infrastructure bill.

Montville Mayor Ron McDaniel said the city, which is expected to receive more than $ 1.8 million, is considering options that include strengthening public safety and social services.

“We’re still in brainstorming mode, but my intention is to make sure we’re spending the money on one-time expenses such as capital improvements (air quality, accessibility, infrastructure), temporary help (monitoring, vaccination, awareness, transport) and security measures for the reopening of certain sectors such as the center for the elderly and social services (automatic unmanned temperature monitoring equipment, additional childcare services, etc.) ”, writes- it in an email.

Preston First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said she is awaiting advice on how the city can spend the $ 456,640 it expects as well as information on who is authorized to allocate the funds – Selectmen Council, Finance Council or city meeting. She called it “unprecedented territory” for the city to receive such a large and large grant.

Improving the town’s broadband service would be a good use, she said, as there are areas of the rural town where service is “spotty.”

“Until we know more, it’s a little premature to start making plans to spend it,” said Allyn-Gauthier. “The good news is we have until December 2024 to spend it.”

In North Stonington, whose allocation for the general government is $ 513,016, First Selectman Mike Urgo said one possible use of the money is funding a per diem firefighter who could answer daytime calls.

Day editors Greg Smith, Claire Bessette, Joe Wojtas, Kimberly Drelich and Sten Spinella contributed to this report.

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