Jul. 3—Cities and towns across the country have 18 months to obligate a total of $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March 2021, and two years after that to spend the funds.
And municipalities in southeastern Connecticut are at various points along that path.
Related story: The pandemic increased activity at parks and trails. Now towns are using ARPA funds for outdoor recreation.
The U.S. Treasury issued a final rule effective April 1, 2022, on how the funds could be spent. Eligible uses of ARPA funds are replacing lost public sector revenue, for public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, premium pay for essential workers, and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Municipalities received the funds in two tranches, one last year and one this year.
A review of documents by The Day from municipalities in the region shows they have been setting aside ARPA dollars for water and sewer improvements, Wi-Fi and broadband upgrades, HVAC, mental health services, food insecurity, nonprofits, small businesses, plans and studies and a lot more, with community input via surveys and committees.
Over the next several weeks, The Day will be looking at how the funds will be spent, starting with those allocated for outdoor recreation.
The total funds range locally from $685,422 for Lyme to $26.3 million for New London and $28.8 million for Norwich.
While some municipalities have allocated all or most of the funds, Lyme and Groton City ($2.6 million) have not taken final votes on how to use their funding.
North Stonington, which has allocated more than 98% of its $1.54 million in ARPA funds, was relatively quick out of the gate when the finance board last July approved $220,000, the largest expense being $165,000 to hire additional per diem staff for the North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company, which needed to later be approved at town meeting due to its size.
Among the other approvals at the time were $15,000 for Ledge Light Health District, which had asked all its member municipalities for 1% of their ARPA dollars, and $15,000 for a municipal notification system for text messages and emails.
Those on the notification system would have gotten a text Monday with a reminder of the special town meeting that night, at which residents approved $100,000 in ARPA funds to aid small businesses and $120,000 for operating expenses at the North Stonington Education Center. Both fell under the category of lost public sector revenue.
In addition, $1 million has been allocated for demolition of the former middle school wing and some other projects.
According to Norwich's budget for the fiscal year that just began, which the City Council adopted June 6, about 84% of the funds have been allocated. The New London City Council approved the first half of its funding in October and the second half last week, though final approvals for individual grants are subject to future council votes.
The Town of Groton has allocated about 40% of its $8.59 million ARPA funds, starting last summer and fall with the approval of $392,240 for Ledge Light, human services, the hiring of an ARPA coordinator and its contribution toward a Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments coordinator. Another $3.05 million was allocated in the current town budget.
The town has broken down its spending into the categories of economic development and resiliency, infrastructure and transportation, parks and recreation, human services, arts and culture, and ARPA administration and other.
City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said he wanted to wait until the city budget was complete before the ARPA review. The mayor said the council is reviewing potential projects and will rank its priorities.
Municipalities had to balance a few competing wants: getting funds out quickly to those in need, obtaining community input on how money should be spent and making sure dollars are allocated for only eligible purposes.
The Waterford Representative Town Meeting approved a plan for the town's $5.5 million all at once last August. The utilities commission is receiving the largest share of funds, with $1.2 million for the Fargo Lane water tower rehabilitation, $1.15 million for upgrades to the pumping stations on Cross Road and Old Norwich Road, and $163,750 for control panels of the Gorman-Rupp 17 pump station.
Stonington taxpayers approved the town's $5.2 million allocation all at once at a town meeting last October.
Other towns have taken a more piecemeal approach. For example, the Ledyard Town Council voted on various projects for its $4.32 million in ARPA funds on multiple dates since December, starting with funds for the Housing Rehab Grant program, putting a new concrete floor in the pole barn where the farmer's market is held, and Thames Valley Council for Community Action, a regional social services agency.
Ledyard's largest allocation, with funds committed April 27, is $1.2 million for phase one of the sewer line extension from Ledyard Center to Ledyard High School.
In East Lyme, taxpayers approved the first $1.6 million of its $5.46 million allocation in four different votes before the Board of Selectmen authorized the formation of a committee to guide decisions on spending the remaining $3.8 million. In a special meeting in April, residents approved a plan for the rest, with 12% of that going toward small businesses and nonprofits and the remainder to town departments.
Old Lyme voters in March approved $41,622, for Ledge Light and the discretionary Social Services Fund, and on July 5 will be voting on the remaining $2,120,593.
Preston's allocation is $1.37 million, and residents are set to vote on a plan for most of the funds at a meeting Thursday.
Day Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich, Claire Bessette, Greg Smith and Joe Wojtas and Day contributors Armi Rowe and Carrie Czerwinski contributed to this report.