By Curt Peterson
The Select Board hosted a public meeting to discuss how best to invest $1,050,000, Hartland’s share of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.
For perspective, the windfall represents $3,088 per man, woman and child in the 2020 census (3,400 residents).
Nationally, most ARAP grants are distributed through counties. Because Vermont county governments are less influential and shorter on resources than in other jurisdictions, the state has permission to distribute ARAP money directly to towns.
Half the funds were distributed by the U.S. Treasury in September 2021, and the second half will be doled out in September 2022, according to Sarah Wraight, a regional planner at Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, who gave a very professional presentation to more than 35 mostly remote attendees on Jan. 13.
At a second meeting set for Jan. 27, town manager David Ormiston told the Mt. Times, the original list of suggestions will be winnowed down, and a committee will be appointed to study the impact and practicality of the final list, and to make recommendations to the Select Board.
Ormiston said he hopes recommendations would be delivered in late April or early May, but no deadline has been set.
In general, congress intends the ARAP funds to compensate for losses caused by the Covid pandemic, and to assist local recovery efforts. More specifically, eligible projects fall into four categories, described in Wraight’s review.
Pandemic Response, including negative economic impacts, assistance to households, small businesses and non-profits, aid to impacted industries (tourism, travel, hospitality).
Premium Pay to Eligible Workers, those performing “essential work during the … health emergency.”
Lost Revenue, meaning any reduction in tax receipts or other municipal revenue sources, measured against “the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency” – which would be 2019.
Water, Sewer and Broadband Infrastructure, a broad category Wraight described as “necessary investments.”
Using ARAP money to matching contributions for other federal programs, to reduce future pension liabilities, to establish “rainy day” reserves or to reduce municipal debt or taxes, are all prohibited.
Participants first identified major criteria by which suggestions might be evaluated, which include long-lasting benefits, focus on the most pandemic-impacted town populations, resilience in the face of future emergencies, fiscal sustainability, projects that funding with taxes would be otherwise difficult, and ideas that have historically achieved known success.
The Hartland listserv has been alive with suggestions and discussions, most of which were also brought up during the Jan. 13 hearing.
One of the most popular, suggested by lifetime Hartlanders Roger and Clydene Trachier, is a large open-air pavilion to be built on town-owned land near the Hartland Library. North Hartland residents suggested an additional, somewhat similar project in their village.
Infrastructure offerings included completing universal broadband internet access, permanent solutions to the North Hartland public water system, which has frequent failures, replacement of a troublesome culvert on Jenneville Road, providing water and sewer services where needed, upgrading Historical Society water system, 35 miles of ditching on class three roads, ventilation and air-filtration systems for town-owned and school buildings, tech upgrades including digitization of town records, laptops for remote use by each town department, town website upgrade and additional town office space.
Proposals for direct help for Hartland residents included providing more childcare services and facilities, investing in affordable housing, job training, apprenticeships in green energy projects, small business assistance, recreational trail development, supporting community events, subsidizing waste management for financially stressed families and direct aid to impacted households.
Town clerk Brian Stroffolino admonished the Select Board to make provision for additional staff to execute any suggested projects.
“These suggested projects are great,” Stoffolino said. “But the onus for getting them done shouldn’t fall on the backs of already-stressed town employees.”