News summary from Sept. 9 forum added, as manager offers new total of $35.25M
UPDATED, Sept. 14: Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine joined other officials at a virtual town forum on Thursday, Sept. 9, presenting an plan to spend $34 million in federal funds from the American Recovery Plan Act.
The next day, the manager confirmed the funding amount totals $35.25 million and has provided an updated framework to reflect this update.
In addition, the comment period has been extended from Sept. 9 to Sunday, Sept. 19, before a final plan is presented to the Select Board, on Sept. 27, for endorsement. The board was to hear details about the forum at its regular meeting, set for Monday, Sept. 13, but that discussion was put off until Sept. 20.
Meanwhile, read the following report from the virtual town forum on Thursday, Sept. 9, was provided by Melanie Gilbert, YourArlington freelancer.
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine: ARPA was passed by the federal government to provide meaningful relief to states, cities and towns and other entities across the nation. In terms of cities and towns, a significant amount of funds were provided via several sources. Arlington, fortunately, was the beneficiary of two of those sources.
One of those sources was giving direct federal grants to what are known as entitlement communities, or those communities that receive community development block grants. So, Arlington is considered an entitlement community. And therefore, we receive community development block grants, and based upon that also have received direct federal funding via ARPA in the amount of approximately $27 million.
Cities and towns that aren’t entitlement communities, also received funds via a county allocation. In this case of Massachusetts, not all counties are functional. So, those funds are being passed through the state and then directly to cities and towns rather than being passed through the county.
Arlington, as we know, is in Middlesex County, there really isn’t a functional Middlesex County government, so Arlington will be the beneficiary of approximately $7 from that funding source, leading to a cumulative total of approximately $34 million that Arlington will be receiving under the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.
'Likely make adjustments'
At this point, I think it’s important to make clear – I didn’t use the word "final" for the plan we’re going to be bringing back, because I do think that over the course of the three-and-a-half-year period, that we’re allowed to expend these funds, that we will likely make adjustments. There may be new priorities that present themselves. There may be further stages of this pandemic that we need to deal with. There may be an expanded understanding of what’s eligible or what type of programs we can consider and fund.
So, while I’m hopeful that we can get close to an agreed-upon framework for how we’re thinking about spending the money, and put some programs that are very much needed immediately into place, I do think we will want some flexibility as we go forward to adjust as appropriate over the course of the next three-and-a-half years.
Next, I want to talk a little bit about ARPA, and what the allowable or eligible expenditures are. The next series of slides goes over the main categories that were enabled via the statute.
Health 'no surprise'
The first category is supporting public health expenditures, which likely is no surprise given the nature of the pandemic.
The next category is addressing the negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency including by rehiring public sector workers, proving aid to households facing food, housing or other financial security. And offering small business assistance and extending support for industries hardest hit by the crisis.
Next, aiding the communities and populations hardest hit by the crisis. Supporting an equitable recovery by addressing not only the immediate harms of the pandemic, but its exacerbation of longstanding public health, economic and educational disparities. Again, I think we have several categories that speak directly to the goals of this piece of the statute.
Next, providing premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have borne and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service during the pandemic.
Next, in investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, in order to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and storm-water infrastructure, and expand access to broadband internet.
We’ve received about 20 comments about the framework, some of which we’ve immediately acted upon. We also have received direct proposals for funding that were solicited by this office from the Arlington Housing Authority, Arlington EATS, FoodLink, as well as the Arlington Center for the Arts.
We completely expect the ARPA framework will continue to evolve, as we learn more about eligible program areas . . . to maximize the benefit to the community.
Revenue loss/OPEB contribution/general fund
So, the first [category] I have listed as “Revenue Loss/OPEB Contribution/General Fund." OPEB is a term we use for retiree health-care contributions slash general fund would be the town’s taxpayer-supported general fund. This category is really is about the section of the statute that lets us account for revenue losses that we’ve seen in the town and to then be able to take some of that revenue and offset those losses both this year and going forward over the next couple years.
As we’ve been studying the numbers, we have not from an accounting point of view, experienced as much revenue loss as we expected. There are some detailed reasons for this. Really the major ones stemming from the fact that both the high school debt exclusion and the minimum high school debt exclusion payments kicked in in calendar year 20, which was the year that we were comparing to 2019.
We’re advocating to change the ruling that would have us include those revenues so that we can provide some benefits to the general fund. But there’s really more to discuss and be seen over the course of the next few months to whether or not we’ll actually be able to claim revenue loss and provide a general fund benefit.
Public health: Hiring nurses
The next category is public health, and this is based on a proposal by Bongiorno. Within those three years of funding for public health, there’s a focus on hiring nursing staff to manage Covid testing, vaccinations and contact tracing. There’s funding for a public health needs assessment. There’s funding proposed to hire an accreditation manager so that we can achieve accreditation for our public health department, as well as the establishment of a mental health referral program included in that mental health line item.
Moving from there onto premium pay, this is the amount of money that currently we’ve set aside for discussion with all of our bargaining units, but specifically those who have had employees on the front lines – those putting themselves at Covid risk and potential for contracting the virus. And we haven’t agreed upon any amounts, yet, though are looking to provide deserved premium pay to those who work throughout the pandemic on the front line for the town.
Mental health support
Next, you see the category for mental health support. And this is the first of several categories I’ve broken down into a little more granular detail on this sheet. The first is for crisis-intervention support, which we see directly going to help provide more social work resources to the police department in their call-response model.
We see the AYCC subsidy program. This is helping the Arlington Youth Counseling Center in providing more mental health service to the youth in the community.
And, additionally, and this has been something that was added since this was first presented to the community in August, we’ve added what I’m calling mental-health research. I think there’s a lot of need for enhancing mental health and access to mental health and behavioral health treatments regionally and in the community. And we’ve set aside these fundings to have further discussions about how we can do that, and how we can support it with these ARPA funds.
Low-income broadband support
Moving on from there, you see the category of low-income broadband support. Again, that was something clearly called out as an eligible expenditure within the statute. And similar to the mental health reserve, we don’t have a current proposal for such an investment, though, just this week, YourArlington covered the need for connectively in some of the Arlington Housing Authority buildings or improving connectivity covered the need for connectively in some of the Arlington Housing Authority buildings or improving connectivity.
So, I’m eager to start engaging with community partners and learning more about how we can put low-income broadband support money to work to try to connect as many residents as possible to broadband and the services that they need.
Small-business assistance, tenant assistance
Moving on from there, you can see small business assistance and tenant assistance. Both of those were clearly listed categories as part of the statute. There’s a memorandum that Jenny Raitt has put together that’s been available on the website that really outlines the details of both the small business assistance and the tenant assistance program.
I think many of you might know that via CDBG funding over the course of the past 18 months, the planning and community development department have been able to operate small business assistance and tenant assistance programming, but the need continues to outstrip both the funding that was available, as well as having both businesses and tenant apply that weren’t eligible under the income criteria that CDBG requires you to be eligible under. It is our understanding of this ARPA funding has broader eligibility requirements, which help us serve more people in the community who are still very much in need of help.
Moving on from there, we go to addressing food insecurity. I received proposals from FoodLink and Arlington EATS. We’ve had some very good discussions with the leadership of both organizations about how they can see these ARPA funds really helping out their organizations. We’re going to continue to talk with [FoodLink] about what exactly those programs look like, but we’re excited to be able to consider giving these funds to them to support such an important organization in the community.
Equally important, ArlingtonEATS, providing critical services to the community, has put forth a proposal that has them focusing on hiring staff to drive and transport food, hiring consultancy to perform a needs assessment to help them really maximize their impact on the community, hiring program and social service staffing in year two as well as conducting hunger-free Arlington strategic planning.
And in the final year, utilizing some ARPA money to launch a social service support program. So, both of these agencies [are] providing critical services to the community already, and looking to be able to utilize these funds to really maximize their impact and potentially expand their impact on those in need in Arlington.
We have the category of HVAC Improvements. Similar to some of the other categories that I already mentioned, there’s no specific project yet proposed, though we know frankly, in all town buildings, as well as in many of the school buildings, there are needs for continuing HVAC upgrades, some of which are already included in the town’s capital plan, some of which have not yet made it into the town’s capital plan.
So, we’ll be working in the upcoming months to provide more clarity on exactly how we would propose and where we could spend these funds for each HVAC improvements, but I do think it’s important to set this aside as we continue to do that work and see where we can make these important investments.
Parks and Recreation
You can see investment in parks and open spaces. This stems from a Q&A that the federal Department of Treasury issued, which talked about being able to invest in parks, playgrounds and open spaces, specifically being able to definitely maintain existing playgrounds. I built in a pretty significant amount of money here as compared to the prior plan, which would allow up to $100,000 a year to go towards playground maintenance as well as over the course of this plan to replace seven of the town’s playgrounds, which would get us, I believe, having one playground that would be past its useful life.
So, we would really be catching up on a backlog in taking pressure off the town’s capital plan as well as the Community Preservation Act funding. So, there’s more research and analysis that will determine that will go into this to determine exactly whether or not we can spend these funds in this category. And, if we can, where exactly we should invest them.
I thought this was an important budgetary set-aside to put in place to consider as an allocation.
Water and sewer
You’ll see water-and-sewer spending. This was something that was clearly called out within the ARPA statute. You are likely to notice that this is the largest single expenditure category that’s currently being proposed. And there’s lots of categories that Mike Rademacher has laid out in a memo that’s available on the town website.
The funding that he proposed over the course of these three-and-a-half, four years would be focused on lead service line replacements, private sewer inflow removal – that’s a sump pump removal program – water meter replacements which are actually currently underway (the implementation of a new water meter reading system).
The repair and reconditioning of sewer pump stations. The repair and reconditioning of water system pressure reducing valves, as well as increasing the amount of annual water pipeline replacement rehabilitation. So, these monies, if allocated in this amount, will go a long way in helping us to catch up on, maintain and replacing our aging infrastructure. And not just pipes, but valves and pump stations and all the moving parts that help keep our water and sewer system running.
You can see affordable housing as a category with a number of subcategories. There’s been changes made here since what was released in August, adding more detail and a couple of subcategories as compared to what you saw when you first looked at this.
You’ll see under Arlington Housing Authority capital, a proposal that’s been put forth by he housing authority to replace the windows in Menotomy Manor. That total estimated project costs right now is $4 million. What we’ve put in here is $2.5 million to $500,000 in year one, $2 million in year two to go towards that project in hopes that they could utilize that funding to leverage other sources of funding from the federal government, state government and potentially either even other local sources of funding that could go towards that project.
Additionally, the $12,000 you see in year one, is related to a proposal for water-saving dishwashers for disabled tenants – a pilot program or demonstration program that the housing authority is considering.
The housing authority has asked for $35,000 to acquire a new van for trips to medical appointments, grocery stores and community events for those residing in the AHA.
You’ll see the AHA resident support service. That relates to a part-time residential service advisor, both salary and expenses.
And the program that they’re looking to launch that would acquire rain barrels and raised garden beds for seniors and disabled tenants. You see that that cost is repeated over the life of this plan, hoping to continually make that investment support that programming for the AHA.
[In] affordable-housing production, you can see over the course of the three years, there’s $3 million proposed right now. Right now, there is no project that those dollars would be expected to go to potentially help subsidize future projects of the HCA. It could also be proposed to be deposited into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund that’s recently been created by Arlington Town Meeting.
A question about making the deposit into the trust fund would be the timeliness test of whether or not we’d be able to expend the funds before the ARPA period ends. But we’ll be working through some of that again over the course of the next few months to see exactly what might be possible.
Finally, under affordable housing you can see deepening affordability of units in the pipeline. And what that means is seeing if there’s ways that we can take units that are currently proposed that are – let’s say 80% of the area median income – and reduce that to 60 or 50 – or another number that is financially feasible using some of these ARPA dollars, thereby enhancing or deepening the affordability of units that may come online in Arlington, So, where that is similar to the prior category, there isn’t currently a project that we have slated to try to allocate those funds to, but we’ll be working through that in the upcoming months.
Overall, I will mention the affordable housing total has gone up by about $900,000 since what you saw in August. We have enhanced the funding that we’re recommending going towards affordable housing.
Affordable housing - homelessness
Next, the category of homelessness. We have some thoughts, plans and proposals around investing in helping to provide services to those homeless living in Arlington. We also hope to be able to develop more plans with our neighbors and take a real regional approach to addressing homelessness, not only in Arlington, but in the region.
Some of the categories we’re thinking about funding are the hiring of a recovery coach to work with the homeless population performing a community-needs assessment, hiring psychiatric services for youth and families that may be homeless, expanding domestic violence services to prevent homelessness, providing trauma-focused therapy and training for clinical staff in the town, in schools, as well as training the APD on trauma-informed response, homelessness and mental health. So, we have some existing plans around helping to serve the homeless in Arlington and beyond, but also have more work to do to flesh that out.
And finally, administration and oversight. This number has been slightly increased since what you saw in August, because we made the decision since launching the comment period to post for a full-time position to manage all of these funds, both the project end and the accounting end. That position would run sort of congruent with some of the ARPA funding. When the ARPA funding runs out, that position would no longer exist. We felt like there was enough work to do here to justify the hiring of a position. And we saw that a number of our peer communities were doing the same.
What you see budgeted for the first year is not only for the position and benefits, but also some accounting work with our outside audit firm to help us establish control measures and to do some of the initial accounting for us in regards to ARPA, and then in the final year, and the remaining three years, money for the position and the ancillary benefits and healthcare benefits and other fringe benefits that position receives.
Michael Rademacher, Department of Public Works: We dedicate a good amount of funds every year for the rehabilitation of water and sewer infrastructure, but mainly our pipeline – so our sewer pipe and our water pipe. And we try to maintain a mile of water main a year. We try to repair a tenth or 15th of the town’s sewer line a year. So, we’re making great strides in both, but we’re falling behind. Even at a mile of water line, we have 130 miles of water pipe in town. So, simple math, we’ll always have a lot of pipe that’s 130 years old.
Not only do we need to be considering ramping up some of that work, but we have other associated infrastructure – the sewer pump stations. We have 9 pump stations that convey sewage through the town that have not been updated for some time. And we also have pressure-reducing valves, which moderate the pressure through town, which also have not been maintained as of recently. So, there’s a lot of need, in addition to the money we have been spending over the past years.
Jenny Raitt, Department of Planning and Development: The memo talks a little bit more detail than what I might talk about right now. The idea is built of off the CARES Act funding that we were able to able to leverage with CDBG program. We were able to serve, we actually had 74 applicants for a variety range of small business programs. Both smaller businesses that are basically under 20 employees or micro enterprises, which are even smaller businesses that are based in Arlington.
We were focused primarily on storefronts and serving that part of the business community obviously during the pandemic. That’s been incredibly important to our main thoroughfares. We had 74 applicants, but we only were able to serve 46 businesses in the community. So, we’ve immediately seen at that point in time that we had a gap in terms of who we were able to serve, both from the perspective of how much money we had available because the requests were actually for almost $650,000 in funding, versus what we could actually provide, which was just under $440,000.
Over the course of the pandemic, we administered a small-business needs survey to look at some of the issues that businesses are still facing in the community. And this was more broad-based so that we were able to touch on some of the home-based businesses, as well as the types of organizations that are operating in our community. And we had 70 respondents.
There continues to be a need for rent or mortgage payment assistance, for utility bill payments, for childcare, job training. There’s a long list of things that people responded to as continuing to be priorities. So, we see this fund, or this allocation, as being distributed to all the different types of businesses that operate in Arlington, not just the ones with a bricks and mortar storefront because there are a number of, for example, arts and cultural organizations or very small businesses that are operating from homes in Arlington, for example.
There’s also another component of this program that is about nonprofit organizations more broadly. And we would like to be to carve out funds in order to support those organizations where’s there’s not other sources of support for them through the state or other programs.
We see this as potentially, you know, being another grant opportunity for a temporary period of time, and again, to address those more specific Covid-related issues. So, if it would be very immediately available, we’d like to be able to basically administer this program sooner than later because many businesses in our community continue to face these issues with the expectation that we would potentially have applicants in place through the end of this year.
We’ll put together an application process, which we’ve sort of outlined in this memo the eligibility criteria, and put together an application portal.
There still continue to be needs in the community, and we think that with this funding, it could be more broadly serving the business community as well as our nonprofit organizations.
Chapdelaine: I plan on working both with town departments, as well as external stakeholders that end up having access to these funds to make sure that there’s a very clear understanding that when these funds are gone, there is no promise of additional funding. And thereby being very careful about what type of staff positions we put in place and understanding the sustainability of those positions. So, I would very much have that same conversation with the housing authority about this (resident services coordinator being only a three-year positions).
I can’t speak very clearly at all to the AHA budget, as they are a separate entity. I know they have a very constrained budget, as I believe almost all housing authorities do across the state. So, I can’t speak for them about how they might prioritize the continuation of such a position after the exhaustion of ARPA money, but what I can say is that I’ll work with them to make very clear that there can be no expectation of funding to continue from this pot of money once the grant period has ended.
The ARPA funds are being provided upfront. We’ve already received the first direct payment from the government. There is a schedule that’s laid out by the federal government over the course of the next three-and-a-half years of when we’ll receive the payments. It is not a reimbursement program; we don’t have to incur the costs upfront. They are actually providing the funds on a schedule. We do expect there will be an audit process to make to make sure that we’re appropriately spending them.
Believe the ARPA funding in the sewer and water area could stave off the size of future potential rate increases rather than actually reduced rates.
If we’re able to make those parks and recreation investments, both the capital plan and CPA would be provided relief, as well as if we made the HVAC investments, the capital plan would be provided relief.
Bongiorno: The HSS proposal does actually double the amount of psychiatric services available through AYCC. We are increasing our domestic violence support, which helps support youth and families. We’ll continue to evaluate in collaboration with the school social work team to determine what additional services we can put in place with the additional reserve that’s been put in place by Adam.
Chapdelaine: There isn’t any explicit mention in the regulations about climate work or NetZero work, although I know the MPC held a meeting of its climate task force today to talk just about that and determine whether or not either the state funds or potentially some of the local funds can be used for NetZero or climate work. We want to be open about the need to have flexibility, as our understanding about eligible expenditures grows over the next few months.
If we were to learn that there were real important investments that we could make to achieve our NetZero goals utilizing these funds, I would be very interested in exploring it.
As the statute defines it, front-line workers include teachers and staff qualify for premium pay.
Anything we can do to support the general fund, it supports everything. The taxpayer supported general funds supports all of the service we currently provide: The Council on Aging, [HSS], the library, recreation serving youth across the community – the AYCC. So, I think very much supporting the general fund absolutely gets it benefiting the people hardest hit by the pandemic because it benefits everybody in town.
I continue to talk with the Finance Committee to fins out about what role the Finance Committee might want to play in advising or guiding these funds.
Phyllis Marshall, treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, said that membership dues year-to-date are down 30 percent this year compared to 2019.
ARPA is being treated like federal grant. And the state’s ruling on these funds is that they only need to be accepted by the vote of the Select Board as the board has to do to accept other federal grants. And then, it can be spent at the discretion of the town manager. And though this is a much larger amount, it’s being treated like many other smaller grant accounts we receive over the year where there’s a very specific purpose for them. They’re received by the town, accepted buy the SB, and then distributed towards the public purpose that the grants were intended for. So, that is the way we’re operating. And that is the way the state has told us to treat these funds.
The funds have to be expended by the end of the period listed on the spreadsheet. It’s June 30, 2024, is when we need to expend the funds or revert them to the federal government.
Premium pay means paying a bonus or some type of incentive to those who have put themselves in harm’s way or borne the greatest risk associated with the virus in performing their job duties over the course of the pandemic. There are certain income thresholds or caps put on it, and certain amounts that are capped in terms of how much you can give any potential employee both on an hourly basis as well as a total basis.
Beyond that, it’s subject to each city and town’s discretion on exactly how they want to prioritize the expenditures of the funds. So far, I’m not aware of any other cities of towns choosing to use these premium pay dollars for municipal workers. We think it’s the right thing to do given the risk that many put themselves in. We’re starting to talk to our unions about that.
Raitt: At the moment, what we have outlined is assistance to both renters and owners to approximately 75 households.
Chapdelaine: We haven’t built a system [of tracking] the expenditures of funds. If we could figure out some type of dashboard that could provide updates, maybe something similar to the open checkbook system that we already provide about how the town spends its money, we could look into whether or not we could do something like that.
We will have very regimented reporting requirements to the federal government about our expenditures. And we could certainly make those reports publicly available. They may not look or feel like the most accessible documents, but at the bare minimum, we could do that.
Watch the virtual forum, view the updated plan and submit your comment at arlingtonma.gov/townmanager.
YourArlington first reported the initial Arlington numbers last March for its share of the $1.9 trillion rescue plan. The total then was almost $36.8 million. In August, the total was reported at $34 million.
The public schools re expected to get $1.1 million, U.S. Rep. Katharine Clark has reported.
The initial town projection came from a March 12 analysis of the national Covid-19 relief plan the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the nonprofit representing 351 cities and towns in the commonwealth. Read it here >> Within that analysis are these numbers >>
This news summary was published Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, and updated Sept. 14, to add a news summary.
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