HARTFORD — For the first time since 2016, the state has reinstated a grant program that funds capital improvement projects in small towns and this year includes a special COVID-19 provision.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont approved $11 million for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP), which will benefit 94 Connecticut towns.
In a release, Lamont said the special COVID-19 provision allows towns to use the funds to cover expenditures on capital projects related to the pandemic, including “new construction, expansion, renovation, or replacement of existing facilities.”
“Our small towns have been hit hard by COVID-19 and are in need of our help to fund these projects,” Gov. Lamont said in a release. “Simply put, some of our small towns need to modernize their infrastructure so that we can support efforts to grow the economy but lack the property tax base they need to fully fund these projects on their own. The state can and should do what we can to help with these costs as these small towns drive tourism, honor our deep and celebrated history, and provide us with family-friendly getaways that are part of the New England experience.”
Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), said many towns are taking advantage of STEAP funding to address the unanticipated costs of implementing safety measures related to COVID-19, for example, “redesigning offices and meeting spaces, enhancing technology, and improving HVAC systems.”
“STEAP grants are critical to assisting the state’s smaller communities in revitalizing main streets and downtowns, upgrading critical infrastructure, and enhancing parks and other community facilities,” said Gara in a release. “The STEAP program recognizes that Connecticut’s small towns are an important part of Connecticut’s overall economic competitiveness and quality of life.”
The Town of Deep River will receive a $119,000 STEAP grant, which requires a $79,000 match from the town, for “technological enhancements to improve public access as part of the town’s open government project.” First Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. said the town has long planned to improve remote access to public information available in the town offices as well as remote access to meetings.
“With the pandemic, it’s become pretty clear that people are participating in our town in public meetings remotely. Part of this [grant money] is to purchase and manage equipment so that if and when we hybridize the meetings, we will still be able to efficiently and easily encourage participation remotely. We need cameras, screens, and microphones so that people at the meetings can see who is talking and people at home can see and hear,” he said. “Another part is to purchase computer equipment that will support the technological advances as far as access to public information in the town clerk’s office and the tax assessor’s office and others.”
He said the remote access to public information is the first priority followed by video conferencing of town meetings.
“I think a lot of folks will continue to participate remotely even when we’re back to ‘in-person’ and we want to have it set up so that they can,” he said. “This is all stuff we have wanted to do for a long time.”
Eric Knapp, planning, zoning and development coordinator for Westbrook, said the $128,205 STEAP grant, which requires a $166,195 match from the town, will be used toward the engineering and design of sidewalks on the Boston Post Road. The sidewalks will run westward from Bellstone Ave., which is across from Westbrook Town Hall, to Osprey Circle, a distance of about 1.4 miles.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to do construction [with the funds] because this is the Boston Post Road and there will be a lot of steps in the permitting process — state DOT approvals, drainage design, it’s in a flood zone so DEEP approvals will be needed,” he said. “Most likely what we will be left with is a fully designed sidewalk plan from Bellstone Ave. to Osprey Circle, and at that point we will seek additional funds.”
He said the project is the result of town research and resident surveys that were developed for a pedestrian and sidewalk plan that the town adopted last year.
“This came out high on the list — the goal is to have a web of sidewalks that connect the area together,” he said.
The town of Clinton will receive $128,205 “for a commercial façade grant program to improve exterior conditions as part of the Clinton Business Improvement Initiative,” which will require a $26,975 match from the town.
“The intent is to improve downtown Clinton to keep it competitive as a business environment,” said Karl Kilduff, town manager. “We will be able to provide grants that we can distribute to our local businesses to help them through COVID times and that they can use it to improve the appearance of their facilities.”
A few of the approved projects that received STEAP grants across southeastern Connecticut include:
- Chester: $85,744.15 to implement a public Wi-Fi internet service, $10,000 town match
- East Lyme: $128,205 for improvements at the municipal transfer station, $20,000 town match
- Essex: $128,000 for parking lot improvements at The Lofts at Spencer’s Corner, will $10,000 town match
- Haddam: $128,205 for the Higganum Community Sewer Project, $148,595 town match
- Madison: $128,205 for the replacement of a pedestrian walkway at Bauer Park, $11,795 town match
- Old Lyme: $126,000 for the replacement of the sidewalks at Ferry Road, $24,000 town match
- Old Saybrook: $128,205 for new restroom facilities at the town park, $17,895 town match.
Here is a complete list of towns approved for this round of STEAP grants.