By Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu
Progress was made last month on how the City will distribute the $ 28 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The 15-member working group selected UHY as a consultant to assist with the eligibility review, reporting and monitoring of the project over the next 5 years. Jack Reagan and Stacy Farber will work with the task force and municipal staff to make sure everything is in line going forward.
As stated earlier, funds can be spent:
1) To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and non-profit organizations, or assistance to affected industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality;
2) Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by offering a bonus to eligible workers;
3) For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenues due to the COVID-19 public health emergency compared to revenues received in the most recent full fiscal year before the emergency; and
4) Make the necessary investments in water supply, sewage or broadband infrastructure.
To date, the City has allocated $ 10,000 to the Community Services Division as part of the Household Assistance Guidelines to help families meet one-time expenses and $ 50,000 to the Health District to meet the public health emergency.
The role of UHY consultants, which is the third expense to be paid from these ARPA funds ($ 157,020), will be twofold. First, they will help the working group define the parameters where the money will have the most impact. We discussed support for eligible City projects, which would reduce the amount of municipal taxes or bond dollars; assistance to affected businesses; and support for non-profit organizations providing essential services. Upon examination, it does not appear that the City would be eligible to recover the lost revenue as indicated in the third bullet above due to the strong financial base that the City currently has.
In general terms, the working group should first come up with a strategy that contains a list of suitable uses. Then, once projects are approved, there must be continuous monitoring of financial and non-financial performance indicators so that the City can file federal reports. And finally, the task force will have to be transparent in reporting to taxpayers how the money has been used.
In order to determine eligibility in the early stages, UHY will create an informational webinar that people can use to learn more about how to apply. There will then be an online portal where projects can be submitted so that eligibility can be assessed. A short description of the project not exceeding 250 words will help to assign the project to one of the eligible categories. Task force members, stakeholders and City departments will strive to “get the word out” through the media and various networks such as the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, the Main Street Community Foundation and others for their sake. ‘Ensure that all businesses, nonprofits and other entities are aware of the opportunity.
Some projects will be evaluated using program evaluations designed to have an impact in the areas of public health, negative economic impacts and services to disproportionately affected communities. Some examples of successful programs are those that will have an impact in helping those affected by Covid due to health disparities or existing inequities such as geographic area or social vulnerability. Another area of interest would be programs that mitigate the impact of the pandemic-related recession on households, low wages, food insecurity, housing issues, access to child care and vocational training. . Aid to companies affected by covid is also eligible.
There is also an interest in using these dollars for one-time investments in order to have a transformative effect on the city. Could we have more direct access to the Pequabuck River along Park Street? Could we create bike paths that were a top priority in the recent Parks Department master plan survey?
Requests to date have included projects such as the accessible trail at Barnes Nature Center, outdoor activities at the Senior Center, additional programs at St. Vincent DePaul, a redundant air circulation system at Bristol Health, construction / refurbishment for alfresco dining at restaurants, outdoor play area at Boys & Girls Club and labor market entry programs for trades and manufacturing, to name a few. Anyone interested in receiving more information about this should send an email to [email protected]
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is Mayor of Bristol.