By Brett Yates
The town of Mendon expects to receive $99,992.68 in aid from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed on March 11 by President Biden. The first payment will occur within 60 days of the law’s enactment, followed by a second payment one year from that date.
While the major stimulus of 2020, the CARES Act, restricted direct municipal payments to cities with populations greater than 500,000, ARPA will deliver aid to all municipal governments from a $65.1 billion fund (of which $76.5 million will go to Vermont’s cities and towns), with a same-sized fund earmarked for county governments. Another $195.3 billion will go to state governments, including $1.3 billion for Vermont.
The law permits towns to utilize their allocations to “respond to the public health emergency” or to “its negative economic impacts” through “assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism”; to provide “premium pay” to “essential workers”’ to pay for “government services” to the extent of any reduction in revenue owing to the pandemic; and “to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.” The money cannot serve to offset a tax cut.
At its April 12 meeting, the Mendon Select Board considered potential uses for the federal windfall but came to no decisions.
The town doesn’t have its own waterworks or sewers, but “certainly we have businesses in town that were affected by the lack of travel. We have essential workers in town,” Town Administrator Sara Tully observed. “How do we find out who those people are and what their negative impact was?”
Town Clerk Nancy Gondella suggested that the aid could pay for the digitization of land records. “One thing we’ve delayed implementing is our emergency generator,” Constable Phil Douglas pointed out.
“Someone’s going to have to be in charge of this program, and possibly a committee,” Tully noted, mentioning the Mendon Economic Development Committee as a potential resource.
The Select Board also plans to solicit guidance on possible disbursements from the ARPA Coordination and Assistance Program now under development at the Vermont League of Cities & Towns. All spending must take place before the end of 2024.
Board Chair Richard Wilcox urged caution. “If we’re not using the money correctly, we’re still liable for it,” he said. “They won’t tell us ahead of time, necessarily. This is the same game we play with FEMA and some of the other agencies: ‘Yes, you can spend the money, but we reserve the right to take it back if it’s not covered’.”