BARRE TOWN — Officials are waiting until “soon” arrives and the rules are finalized to figure out how to use $2.3 million in federal pandemic relief dollars.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Select Board heard from Katelyn Kran, the town’s finance director. Kran gave the board a presentation about the federal funds the town has been given through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
She said the town has already received half of the $2.3 million with the other half expected to be delivered in August or September of next year.
Kran told the board all of the money must be obligated by the end of 2024, meaning contracts signed for projects, and spent by the end of 2026.
She told the board the rules for how the funds can be used haven’t been finalized yet. Kran said the federal government has said the rules will be announced “soon,” but has been saying that since May.
Kran said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns is telling municipalities to be patient and deliberate because there is time to use the funds. But board member Justin Bolduc noted it might be in the town’s best interest to move quickly once the town decides how to use the funds. That’s because every town in the state has been given a large chunk of money to use with a set deadline to use it by and a finite number of contractors available to hire to spend that money on.
They can’t do much of anything until “soon” arrives, however.
Kran said the federal government has given some broad criteria for what the money can be used on. She said it can be used to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. It can also be used to make up lost revenue caused by the pandemic and to respond to negative economic impacts from the pandemic. Kran said the town can use the funds to pay eligible essential workers.
The funds cannot be used to match another federal grant; to create a “rainy day fund;” to pay off outstanding debt or lower property taxes; to pay for infrastructure outside of water, sewer and broadband; or to fund employee pensions.
The town is working on a grant to address stormwater issues at the public works yard. Town Manager Carl Rogers said the town might have a better chance of getting the grant if it agrees to a 25% match using ARPA funds. Kran said that wouldn’t be possible if the funding source for the grant is the federal government, something officials said they would have to look into.
The town is looking at upgrading some technology for the recording of board meetings and it was suggested ARPA funds could be used for that.
Board member Norma Malone asked whether the town could put the money into a certificate of deposit so that the town can earn interest on the funds while it figures out how to use them. Kran said that is allowed. She said the town couldn’t invest the money if it would risk losing any of the original amount, such as investing it in the stock market, but it can earn interest from ARPA funds.
Rogers said the town could use some the money to connect the town’s water system to the former Websterville Fire District’s pipes. He said the Graniteville Fire District has asked for funds from the town for a waterline project.
Malone cautioned against using the money for something that will only affect a small percentage of residents instead of the town as a whole.
“While I appreciate the water district projects, that’s a real small percentage of people as opposed to all the people that are in this municipality,” she said.
Malone said another possible project could be to plug up some of the holes in radio coverage in town for emergency responders. She said such a project would be of benefit to everyone in the community.
Board chair Paul White said a resident asked the board to use the funds to fix Gunner’s Brook to restore the natural movement of fish in that waterway.
Rogers suggested not planning on using all of the $2.3 million so that there will be some left over if needed down the road.