Vergennes eyes $750K in COVID funds

Congressman Peter Welch

VERGENNES — Vergennes will soon receive the first half of $756,383 in federal COVID-19 aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., told the Vergennes City Council on Tuesday.
The Addison Northwest School District will also receive $1.76 million, Welch told the council. 
There are strings attached on how that money can be spent, Vermont’s Congressman added.
Spending has to be related to the impact on the community related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Welch said, and there are components related to helping nonprofits and supporting water, sewer and broadband projects.
“You are going to have extraordinary responsibilities on you to use this $756,000 on behalf of those citizens you represent,” Welch told the council.
It is part of a package of more than $4 million that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says will be distributed to Addison County towns and Brandon as part of the recently enacted federal relief package. Late last week the VLCT released a town-by-town list of “Local Government Allocations in the American Rescue Plan.”
The League listed $4,006,829 for Addison County municipalities (including $369,409 for Brandon, which is in Rutland County). That list included the $255,426 “non-entitlement municipality” allocation that Welch announced, but did not include a further estimated allocation of $500,957, which brought the total to $756,383.
A chart with the accompanying story shows the “non-entitled municipality” allocations for all of the local towns.
On Tuesday at the city council meeting, Welch said he and his office staff would help Vergennes officials work through the regulations and limitations on spending the money, half of which is due to arrive within 60 days of the bill’s signing and the other half in a year.
“We want to be your partners and hear whatever problems you’re having in hopes we can be a resource for you to help you work through whatever problems arise so you can make absolutely the best use of the funds,” Welch said.
Mayor Matt Chabot expressed the city’s gratitude for the Congressman’s efforts and the funding, which he said city officials would do their best to use wisely.
“We will be appropriate stewards of that money and make sure that we are reaching out to our community as to how to best support everyone here in need,” Chabot said.
Vergennes City Manager Ron Redmond on Wednesday morning said he was working on getting concrete information on how the city might be permitted to spend the money. He was asked what he had learned.
“Only what I heard last night. I’ve heard no details yet. It has to be COVID-related,” he said.
Chabot also followed up with Welch on the possibility of federal support for the upcoming rebuild and reworking of the city’s sewer collection system and plant.
“We’d like to use the $756,000 in other ways as of yet to be determined by the city,” Chabot said, before asking if there were other ways Welch could help with a project that could cost close to $17 million.
The city has for decades been under state and federal orders to solve its persistent problems of stormwater and sewage overflowing into Otter Creek after heavy rains. The major problem is infiltration of stormwater into the city’s aging collection system.
Welch had recently sent out a memo seeking community project funding requests, and on Tuesday was asked if the city’s sewer woes might make the cut.
He offered a couple possibilities.
“One thing, Congress this year is going to resume member-directed spending,” Welch said. “And your project is in the category that is eligible. It’s nonprofit. It’s a local community project. So it’s in that range. The amounts that are going to be available are going to be quite limited, I think, so we’re getting guidance from the Appropriations Committee now. But I think it’s a good thing for you to put in your application.”
He added another opportunity.
“The next major proposal the Biden administration is going to make is the long-awaited, but never implemented, infrastructure plan,” Welch said. “As part of that, there is a significant emphasis on water and sewer.”
He soon afterward wrapped up his Zoom visit.
“Expect there to be some bumps in the road,” Welch said. “But expect us to be as helpful to you as we can be.”

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