As we approach the two-year mark of the Covid-19 pandemic, Connecticut seems to have turned a corner as far as infection and death rates are concerned. Not only have we as individuals and families seen our lives turned upside down by the pandemic, the economies of our local towns and cities are also struggling towards a recovery. In an effort to help America’s municipalities pay for some of the immediate and long-term costs caused by the pandemic, in March of this year the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Towns across America have received millions of dollars from ARPA to help with the financial burdens related to the pandemic. East Lyme has been allocated $5.4 million from ARPA. This is not free money to be used for wish-list projects. The U.S. Treasury has placed guidelines and restrictions on how the money can be spent; however, due to ARPA’s scope and the fact that it has only been in effect for a few months, the guidelines, though extensive, may prove to be somewhat ambiguous.
In spending this $5.4 million of ARPA funds, East Lyme needs to take a responsible and measured approach, rather than rushing to spend money on projects that may or may not qualify under ARPA. This will allow us time to ensure that East Lyme’s disbursement of this money will comply with the Treasury’s guidelines and restrictions. If we don’t do this right, then we may find ourselves in violation of the Treasury’s rules and may have to reimburse the Treasury from the Town’s general funds.
For example, the Town recently approved allocating some of the ARPA funds to a well-deserving non-profit organization. However, it was later discovered that this appropriation violated ARPA eligibility rules due to an issue with a matching Federal grant. East Lyme is currently in the process of remedying this appropriation to fully comply with ARPA. The guidelines and restrictions also call into question the validity of having used ARPA funds to cover a new roof for the Public Safety Building.
We recently discovered that a non-profit organization in our community wanted to apply for town ARPA funds, but were unable to meet any town officials to apply for the funds. Additionally, other organizations were not even aware that they were eligible for ARPA funds.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to take a more measured approach to allocating ARPA funds is that the current administration has acknowledged that it does not have a comprehensive plan to allocate the ARPA funds, and that it prefers to turn this responsibility over to the new administration.
This is why the Board of Finance put a pause on appropriating more ARPA funds at its October 13th meeting. It is important to note that we did not dispute the merit of any appropriation request before us that evening, and I have confidence that we will see these same requests in the very near future. However, due to the lack of a comprehensive plan as to how to spend the ARPA funds, lack of community involvement, and questionable adherence to guidelines and restrictions, a brief pause is needed.
If elected to be your next First Selectman, a comprehensive plan will be needed to properly spend the ARPA funds. I have prepared such a plan so that my team and I are ready to “hit the ground running” on day one. The most critical component of a well-reasoned plan is to create a committee comprised of highly qualified individuals with a diverse skill set. This committee will assume the full weight and responsibility of managing the distribution of ARPA funds for the benefit of East Lyme.
We need public forums to ensure all stakeholders are informed and educated on the permitted uses of funds, and that our community has a voice in the process of determining how the ARPA funds will be spent. Transparency, compliance, and community involvement will guide the process to help East Lyme recover and prosper from money well spent.
Alberti currently serves as chair of the East Lyme Board of Finance, and is the Democratic candidate for First Selectman of East Lyme.