Selectmen Steering $2.5 Million To Offset Hawley School HVAC Bonding

Published: 07 Oct 2021 15:47

The Board of Selectmen at its Oct. 4 meeting unanimously approved the use of $2.5 million of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds released to Newtown for the Hawley School HVAC project.

First Councilor Dan Rosenthal stated that if the Hawley School HVAC project is not passed in a referendum in November, the ARP funds could be used elsewhere.

Selector Jeff Capeci asked if there was a reason the money should now be allocated for Hawley School, and Rosenthal replied that it was to give voters full disclosure about how much the city would commit if they approved the project.

The Hawley School credit was approved in the Capital Improvement Plan (2021-22 to 2025-26). The city will issue $8 million in bonds to borrow the amount, now minus the $2.5 million in ARP money. On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, voters will be asked to approve or reject the credit.

“Hawley fits right in the parameters of use [for ARP funds]Rosenthal said.

According to the United States Department of the Treasury, ARP funds can be used by the city for the following:

*Supporting public health spending, for example by funding efforts to reduce COVID-19, medical costs, behavioral health care and certain public health and safety personnel.

*Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic damage to workers, households, small businesses, affected industries and the public sector.

*Replace lost public sector revenues and use this funding to provide government services to the extent of the revenue decline due to the pandemic.

* Provide premium pay for essential workers and provide additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks from their service in critical infrastructure sectors.

*Invest in water, sewage and broadband infrastructure, make necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and expand broadband internet access.

“Within these general categories, recipients have broad flexibility in deciding how best to use this funding to meet the needs of their communities,” according to the Treasury’s website.

The city has until December 21, 2024 to spend money from the payout and then another year to spend it.

Rosenthal noted that the ARP requires that anything money is used for is not a “recurring item” — so a new position with a paycheck, for example, wouldn’t be an approved use of the money. Any recurring items should be financed from the city’s normal operating budget in the coming years.

In addition, ARP funding cannot be applied directly to the budget as revenue to directly reduce the milling rate.

Chief Financial Officer Robert Tait said the ARP has paid out $1.56 billion to counties and cities, and $3.93 billion to residents nationwide. Of the $7.6 million portion of the city’s money, it received half this year, or $3.8 million, and the other half is available for spending next year.

Rosenthal said at a BOS meeting in August that while the city does not have to provide formal credits to spend ARP money, he felt it was better to follow the prescribed process in the Charter when the funds are allocated. Rosenthal’s idea was that it would create a paper trail if the federal government questioned how Newtown was using the funds, and showed taxpayers how those funds were being used.

Other things the city could use the money for, in addition to the Hawley project, are new Wi-Fi routers at the community center and community center, which selectors said were malfunctioning; a new roof for the Municipal Center; and vehicle cameras for the police.

Rosenthal said all police cruisers have cameras, but the current ones are “starting to fail”. Other ideas included a community center patio, an on-campus bike shed in Fairfield Hills, and a renovation of the Dickinson Park Pavilion for the Parks & Recreation Department. It also noted the possibility of giving some form of grants to companies affected by COVID-19, but Rosenthal said that would be a “challenge to manage”.

Rosenthal said the list of possibilities isn’t complete, just a few things to consider.

“I didn’t ask all departments for a list,” Rosenthal says.

Rosenthal also said he felt it was best to keep items under consideration for ARP funds for items that had been considered for previous budgets.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at [email protected]

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