ARPA funding topic at a special meeting
by Mary Grow
At a special meeting on March 2, spokespersons for the Vassalboro Health District (VSD), Vassalboro Volunteer Fire Department, and Vassalboro First Responders briefed select board members on how they would use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) if they got any.
Some council members have not made any decisions. Further discussion is tentatively scheduled for their March 17 meeting.
They reminded everyone that ARPA funding is likely a one-time deal. Vassalboro received $231,692.56, according to City Manager Mary Sabins, just over half of her $461,000 credit. She expects the rest early this fall.
Engineer Stephen Green spoke on behalf of the VSD, with almost silent support from the entire board. The top priority, Green said, is to repair most if not all of the 72 manholes on Vassalboro streets and roads.
The manholes date from the 1980s, he said. The retaining walls are brick and mortar, the mortar deteriorating so that many manhole covers have sunk below roadway level. He said about a third of the manholes have been inspected; 90% of the people inspected need repairs.
Green estimated that about 30 manholes are on Route 32 (Main Street) and were “pounded the worst” by relatively heavy traffic. They generated numerous complaints with VSD officials, the city office and the select committee.
Route 32 is a national road. Green said he is waiting to hear from state officials if the VSD can cut the sidewalk to make repairs.
VSD officials are already planning the manhole works. Green’s current cost estimate is $250,000. He believes the work qualifies for ARPA under the wastewater treatment infrastructure category and said the VSD has access to matching funds.
Once funding is secured, Green expects the work to take at least six months, two to award a contract and four to build.
Several weeks ago, VSD officials gave selectors a list of lower-priority projects, and Green briefly summarized them: installing bulk tanks to hold odor control chemicals at pump stations, repairing the office building, paving the access roads, adding water to the pumping stations (for washing pumps) and perhaps, in the event of a recovery in demand, the extension of the sewer lines.
Sabins calculated the total VOD request at more than $2.2 million, well in excess of ARPA’s expected funds.
Fire Chief Walker Thompson’s priority is to replace Scott air packs for service members. If he were to get 20 new ones in a single year, Sabins pegged the cost at over $163,000. Thompson talked about spreading the purchases over two years and buying 16 rather than 20.
Thompson’s second priority is stipends for firefighters who have continued to work during the pandemic. He recommended allocating the money on a per appeal basis.
Relief chief Dan Mayotte said his top priority was to buy 11 new AEDs (automatic external defibrillators). The device’s current AEDs are breaking down one by one, and it’s so many old spares that are no longer available.
He would also like money for ENVO masks (reusable N95 masks) for volunteer firefighters and other city employees and volunteers who regularly interact with the public, and a $10,000 fitness testing machine to go along with the masks. Sabins said all city employees are considered essential workers and all deal directly with the public at least some of the time.
Training funds would also be helpful, Mayotte said, and his volunteers would appreciate stipends.
Sabins had estimated the total claim from first responders at nearly $70,000.
Sabins suggested an electronic sign for the city office gate yard to help keep residents informed of upcoming events. She had a cost estimate of $30,000 to purchase and install a sign, based on the cost of the new one at Vassalboro Community School.
At the March 3 board meeting, member Chris French suggested using some of the second half of the ARPA money for a second sign at the Riverside Fire Station on Riverside Drive. (road 201).
Other suggestions that might qualify for ARPA money included repairs to the China Lake outlet dam at East Vassalboro; a Zoom or similar system that would allow residents to view certain council meetings from their homes; and a donation to Delta Ambulance of Waterville.
ARPA regulations explained
Federal regulations for the use of ARPA funds, approved by the Secretary of the Treasury and effective April Fool’s Day 2022, are in a two-inch-thick blue binder that City Manager Mary Sabins brought to the March 2 select council discussion.
Inside are 437 mostly single-spaced typescript pages. The stated purpose is to “implement the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund” established by Congress.
The document has no table of contents, no index and no definitions section.
The introduction states that the document is supposed to explain what ARPA money can be used for and how to apply for it. It informs people that “each eligible use category has separate and distinct standards for assessing whether a use of funds is eligible.”
Applicants must determine which category their planned expenses fall into, and then decide whether the expenses meet the standards for that category.
In addition, “in the case of uses to address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic on public health, recipients must also determine to which subcategory the eligible use falls (i.e. public health , household assistance, small business assistance, non-profit organization assistance, assistance to affected industries, or public sector capacity and workforce), then assess whether the potential use of funds meets the eligibility standard for this sub-category. »
Parts of the document describe eligible uses; other use restrictions in the parts list. Some restrictions only apply to certain government types.
Government types are listed as “State, Territory, Tribal Government, County, Metropolitan City, Unlawful Government Unit”. Sabins said the last category refers to small towns like Vassalboro.
The document states that federal officials do not pre-approve ARPA expenditures. Vassalboro Select Chairman Robert Browne explained that Vassalboro spends the money and then submits the bill. If it is rejected, the municipality pays.
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