The Selectboard is looking for the public’s input on how it should spend its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The selectboard discussed how to obtain public input, and potential use of the funds, during its regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 13.
Back in March, President Joseph Biden signed the ARPA into law which directs $65.1 billion in aid to cities and towns across America.
Charlotte has received $370,000 in aid, but more than five months after the town received the aid, town officials are still trying to determine what to do with it.
Selectboard members Lewis Mudge and Louise McCarren have been leading research for the town on potential uses for the funds.
“We should dedicate at least two meetings this fall specifically to this,” Mudge told the board. “We need to explain to the public what the funds can and cannot be used for.”
McCarren suggested that the town put links on its website to find more information concerning the funds, including a form on the website asking residents for suggestions.
“We should have a public space, along with meetings for input,” McCarren said.
Chairman Matt Krasnow said that funds from ARPA need to be committed by 2024.
“We do have a significant amount of time to commit the money,” Krasnow said. “For large potential expenditures of $50,000 or more, including fire and rescue equipment, it has to go to a town vote. We have two years to consider larger infrastructure and community investments for the whole town to weigh in on. We will also have two-and-a-half years to consider the smaller ones.”
Krasnow suggested that the town bring potential spending packages forward to town meetings during the next two years to get community input.
“There’s no one way to do this,” McCarren said. “I am thinking about ways for other townspeople to hop on and see what they are all thinking.”
“With the affordable housing fund, there is an application process and there are criteria laid out for awarding those applications,” Krasnow said. “As a board, we could look into a similar process for the funds, so it is very transparent what the decision points are for greenlighting some funding requests over others.”
Krasnow said one idea he received involved setting “a minimum guaranteed funding request,” providing that a certain criterion was met. “Any community request for $500 is guaranteed to be committed as long as it meets ARPA funding standards.”
Krasnow added, “This will be a thorough and thoughtful process because a lot of funds have been given to the community.”
Resident Robert Bloch asked a question about the philosophy of the Selectboard in addressing ARPA spending.
“Do we view this as this magical windfall that’s come to us and we will do everything we can to spend it within the rules?” Bloch asked. “Or is there any room in there for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re statistically the most prosperous community or one of the top three in the state. We have a federal government that has significant debt, and even though this money is available to us, there is an idea that we might return some or not spend some.’ Does that enter the equation at all, or is it ‘Hey, this is a windfall, baby! Let’s see if we can spend it all!'”
“If we do send some of it back, will it be reallocated to other [towns]?” McCarren asked.
No one on the board had the answers to Bloch or McCarren’s questions.
“This is not just magic money, and we have a responsibility to use it properly,” Bloch added. “There are plenty of useful things we can do with this money, and I hope we can use it properly.”