Money, money, money.
As the US Federal Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, rolls out across the country, one thing becomes clear: “There’s a lot of money flowing. “
Brian Chirichiello, who sits on both the three-person Rockingham County Commissioners Council, and the seven-person Derry City Council, said.
It is in a unique position as county commissioners will oversee spending of $ 60 million in bailout funding, while city council will oversee spending of $ 3.2 million.
Meanwhile, Derry schools will be eligible for $ 3.5 million.
The big unknown – according to him and other city, town and school officials on both sides of the border – is how to use it.
“There are a lot of questions,” he said. “We are trying to get advice on what we are allowed to use it for.”
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is in the same boat: more questions than answers on how to use the city’s $ 38 million bailout fund allocation.
“The United States Treasury Department is responsible for adopting new guidelines and regulations on this matter,” he said. “We expect that in about 30 days.”
Fiorentini said the money is for very specific uses and cannot be used for whatever the city wants.
“We know it expires in 2024, so we can’t budget long-term items,” he said. “We cannot use it to repay our pension commitments. Unfortunately, this is not an infrastructure bill, although I would like it to be, because I would use part of it to pave streets and repair sidewalks. But it doesn’t look like we can do it. We know we can use it for water and sewage, but it’s not clear what we can use it for in this general category.
According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the use of the money is limited to four general areas: responding to the public health emergency or its negative economic consequences; payment of a bonus to eligible workers (as designated by the local municipal official); income replacement (compared to local income figures for fiscal year 2019); investments in water, sewers and broadband infrastructure.
Chirichiello said that kind of vague direction worried county commissioners statewide.
“A lot of counties are nervous if they spend money on something, and through an audit the federal government will come back and say, ‘This is not what the money was supposed to be used for.’ did he declare.
As a result, it’s kind of a waiting game.
“We’ll get the money and then seek advice from Washington on what to do,” he said.
Plaistow city administrator Mark Pearson agreed it was a waiting game at this point. The community, which has a population of 8,000, is expected to receive $ 760,000 as part of the relief plan.
“The devil is in the details of how to use it,” he said. “I don’t know at this point what I can use it for. I am interested to know. This is something that is not normal. The point is, I don’t think any of us know that.
School districts may be in a better position in terms of information on how they can use the money they receive from the Elementary High School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER – the education part of the plan. federal rescue.
Derry Co-operative School District business administrator Jane Simard said the money donated to the district – around $ 3.5 million – could be used for anything COVID-related, like maintenance work on roofing and insulation, air quality, purchase of classroom furniture, technology, additional student services, additional staff and additional counseling and mental health support.
The money could also be spent on shoes and clothing for underserved students in the district, she said. Derry is also planning a summer learning program for students who may need additional help with core subjects like math and reading.
“There are a lot of things you can do,” said Simard. “We’re certainly not rushing to spend all of this money. We want to make sure that we are working to use this money as wisely as possible. “
Stephen Nembirkow, chief operating officer of Andover Public Schools, said the district will use a portion of the estimated $ 1.3 million in federal funds to purchase items that will ease the transition to in-person learning.
Andover purchased 27 event tents to use for learning and outdoor dining space, which cost a total of $ 133,000, he said. The new offices needed to comply with distancing guidelines will cost around an additional $ 200,000, he said.
Several officials explained how they hope to use the money for water and sewer projects.
City of Derry Administrator David Caron said the community is preparing to learn as much as possible about how to spend the funding once it becomes available.
“We have attended seminars to learn more about the permitted uses of funds, however, we don’t expect the US Treasury to issue final rules for four to six weeks,” Caron said.
He added that Derry will find good uses for the additional support.
“We will be able to use the funds to replenish the revenue lost to the city due to the economic impacts resulting from the pandemic,” Caron said. “Other uses include water, wastewater and broadband infrastructure, as well as potential assistance to the business community. “
Derry will begin its annual budget process soon and Caron has said further discussions about this funding will follow.
“I expect the board to make decisions on these matters when considering the FY22 budget in April,” Caron said. “The funds are available until 2024, so it will be a rollback over several years.”
Fiorentini agreed that the money could be invaluable for water and sewer projects.
“We have hundreds of people in the city without water and sewers,” he said. “Their septic systems, if they break down, put our water supply at risk. Some of this money could be used to protect our water supply. “
He said the city has millions of dollars in spending to cover stormwater and combined sewer overflows and the city may be able to use some of the money to pay for some of those expenses.
“Rather than doing it piecemeal, I’m going to work with department heads or with outside experts to try to put in place a comprehensive plan for the use of this funding,” he said. “This is a unique opportunity to upgrade some of our infrastructure, within the limited parameters of the bill and we intend to take full advantage of it. “
Journalists Julie Huss and Mike LaBella contributed to this story.
Southern New Hampshire
Rockingham County: $ 60 million
Derry: $ 3.2 million
Salem: $ 2.95 million
Windham: $ 1.47 million
Atkinson: $ 710,000
Sandown: $ 650,000
Danville: $ 450,000
Hampstead: $ 850,000
Note: These figures do not include amounts paid to school districts.
Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts:
Methuen: $ 14 million *
Laurent: $ 58 million
Andover: $ 10.6 million
N. Andover: $ 9.1 million
Haverhill: $ 38.2 million
* Methuen distributes an additional $ 100 million among three other aggrieved communities by the federal formula used to calculate aid, meaning the total could reach $ 39 million if the $ 100 million is split equally in four ways.