STONINGTON — Local residents will have an opportunity to weigh in this week on a proposed spending plan for use of American Rescue Plan Act funds that would dedicate $2.48 million to facilities and $1.5 million to infrastructure while also including money for housing, transportation and economic initiatives.
The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing Wednesday evening on a tentative budget plan for $5.23 million in federal funding provided through the ARPA grant. First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said last week that the goal of the process, which has mimicked the town’s annual budget process to this point, is to make sure all residents are given an opportunity to offer feedback on best use of the funding.
"This process is designed to provide transparency by giving the taxpayers a say in how we move forward. $5 million is a lot of money and we need to be clear on how we are using it," Chesebrough said.
Elected officials with the Board of Finance have been working over the past two months, at the direction and with assistance from the Board of Selectmen, to develop a comprehensive spending plan for the funds.
The plan, which was approved by finance members earlier this month and has since been made available on the town’s website, would involve allocating 80% of the $5.23 million to facilities and infrastructure, 13% for various local services, 4% for economic initiatives and 2% for purchase or reimbursement of personal protective equipment or other COVID-related expenses.
Two of the more expensive projects proposed with the funding include necessary HVAC upgrades at Stonington Town Hall and Stonington Human Services, a $1.54 million request, as well as an additional $1.4 million to help cover half the cost for an HVAC system purchase and installation at Stonington Middle School.
“The school has requested assistance through CIP and other funding in the past, but have not been able to move forward with this important need,” the Board of Finance wrote in a 22-page project overview. “With the two new elementary school buildings and the efforts to update Stonington High School, the District Office HVAC, ventilation systems, the last district building needing attention is Stonington Middle School. To that end, the district has set aside over half of the available District ARP funds to assist with this critical building improvement.”
The proposed funding also includes $600,000 to address structural issues with the Department of Public Works salt dome, as well as committing $525,000 in drainage and paving repairs throughout the community.
As presented, the use of rescue funds would allow for local contribution to a $2.8 million project that would close a set of dead end water transmission mains in Pawcatuck that have left officials concerned that firefighters would not have adequate resources in an emergency if one of the lines were to break.
Under the plan, the town would use ARPA funding for approximately $900,000 in costs, while separate funding as part of the latest round of Community Project Funding grants approved by members of the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year would cover the remaining costs.
Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns wrote to Congressman Joe Courtney, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, earlier this year to request the additional funding. The funding, which was tentatively approved in August pending full Congressional approval, would allow the town to address two major trouble points; dead ends in water lines along River Road that has been subject to considerable development and growth in recent years and, perhaps more concerning, a section of Route 1 which services the Stonington Police Department, Stonington High School, Davis Standard and Stonington Arms.
"In the event of a water shut down in this area, fire sprinklered buildings would need to be evacuated due to the lack of fire protection," Burns said.
In addition to the wide range of projects, Chesebrough said the proposed funding plan would also include funding to bolster mental health resources throughout the community as well, including providing money for the Child & Family Agency in Groton, as well to partner with Inclusion A Sylvestre Foundation Inc.for the renovation of the former Stonington Public Schools District Office in Old Mystic, which would be renovated for potential use as either an affordable, mixed income housing for seniors or housing for neurodiverse adults.
The plan also calls for small funding to go to other outside agencies in an effort to aid local residents impacted by the pandemic. This includes the Ocean State Chamber of Commerce, Mystic Chamber of Commerce, Southeastern CT Cultural Coalition, New Heights, Always Home and others.
The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. in the Office Board Room for the Stonington School District, located at 40 Field St. in Pawcatuck. For more information, including access the proposed spending plan, visit https://www.stonington-ct.gov/home/news/board-of-finance-public-hearing-september-15-2021-700-pm.