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Bristol considering ARPA fund choices

BRISTOL — Bristol officials have begun brainstorming ways to spend the $1,148,473 in federal COVID relief funding the town has been designated to receive through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

ARPA is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden this past March.

Addison County’s 23 communities will receive a combined $3.78 million in direct municipal ARPA funding and will share, according to their 2019 estimated populations, an additional $7.02 million earmarked for the county, for a total of $10.8 million.

Bristol’s direct municipal funding comes to $402,210 and its share of county funding is $746,263.

Towns and cities have already received, or will soon receive, the first half of their ARPA municipal and county funding. The second half will be distributed next year.

“Please keep in mind that the Municipal and County funding can only be used in some specific categories, and you have three years to use them, so please be patient!” wrote Andrew L’Roe, Emergency Management Planner for the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, in an Aug. 26 memo to the county’s municipal administrators.

ARPA includes four broad criteria outlining eligible uses, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns:

•  To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.

•  To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers.

•  For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID–19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.

•  To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

“In addition, there is quite a bit of ARPA state funding being allocated through different agency programs that may overlap or complement the projects your town wants to accomplish,” L’Roe wrote. “Holding a public meeting to discuss community desires for strategically using this funding for transformative upgrades is strongly recommended.”

Bristol selectboard member Michelle Perlee suggested having Bristol residents vote on how to allocate this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity.

“Maybe we come up with a certain number of projects and they’ll give us a priority of what they think should be on that list,” Perlee said at the selectboard’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 13.

In her Sept. 11 report to the selectboard Town Administrator Valerie Capels compiled a short list of outstanding projects and investment areas the town might wish to consider:

•  Pine Street water line replacement (estimated cost: $772,000).

•  Basin Street slope/stormwater project (estimated cost $700,700).

•  Core Area sewer upgrade (estimated cost: $650,000 or so).

•  sidewalk improvements.

•  broadband investment.

•  revenue replacement.

Some projects, such as those addressing water and sewer needs, may also qualify for additional, non-ARPA funding, Capels said.

And they’re likely to figure prominently in future discussions about how to allocate federal relief funds.

Earlier in Monday night’s selectboard meeting, Green Mountain Engineering presented the findings of its preliminary report on the current status of Bristol’s water distribution system, much of which is more than a century old.

The system needs nearly $10 million in repairs and upgrades, according to the 75-page report.

Because nearly three hours had elapsed at Monday night’s meeting before the selectboard could take up the question of ARPA funding, formal discussion was postponed to a future meeting.

“Obviously this is going to require more conversation and there are various entities, nonprofit organizations, citizens, who have other ideas about how these funds can be used,” Capels said.

BROADBAND INTERNET

At the close of the ARPA discussion, selectboard member Ian Albinson put a plug in for Maple Broadband, a nonprofit organization working to bring affordable, reliable internet service to underserved communities.

According to an initial Maple Broadband assessment, only 5-6% of Bristol’s 3,800 residents qualify as “underserved.”

“So we’re actually very well served here with vibrant high-speed internet,” Albinson said. “But … I do think it’s up to Bristol to support the other towns as well, especially our surrounding four towns, because of the connections we have with schools and education.”

According to Capels’ report, Bristol Treasurer Jen Myers is setting up a new town account to track ARPA revenues and expenditures.

For more information about the American Rescue Plan Act in Vermont, visit tinyurl.com/vlctarpa.

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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