Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio reviewed some of the options that the town has for the uses of those funds at last week’s Town Council meeting.
ARPA was signed into law March 11, 2021, Maio observed. Funds can be used for expenses from March 2021 forward. Any costs must be incurred or obligated by December 31, 2024.
Funds can be deployed in the following eligible areas: Public health spending; economic impacts of the public health emergency; lost public sector revenue; premium pay for essential workers; and infrastructure. ARPA funds cannot be used to replenish reserves or fund pension funds.
Maio elaborated that the funds can be used for infrastructure, including roads and outdoor spaces, modernization of cybersecurity, health services, school or educational services, police, fire, and other public safety purposes and assistance to households, small businesses and non profits, especially if they are woman or minority run.
Mental Health Services are eligible for ARPA funds, including community-based mental health and substance abuse programs, school-based social-emotional support and other mental health services, including trauma recovery services.
Maio noted that under the education category, the funds can be used for summer education and enrichment as one way to address learning loss during the pandemic. Similarly, summer camps and recreation are also allowable uses of ARPA funds.
Other assistance could include support to enhance outdoor spaces for COVID-19 mitigation such as restaurant patios or improvements to the built environment of the neighborhood (like façade improvements), Maio said. Investing some of the money in parks, public plazas and other outdoor recreation spaces may be responsive to the needs of disproportionately impaired communities by promoting healthier living environments, outdoor recreation, and socialization.
Maio floated the possibility of using some of the money to improve the pathway around the Lake, as it is used by many people as a venue for healthy exercise.
Maio also noted some of the positions that the town has already created or expanded due to the pandemic, such as the Town Hall greeters and increasing the hours of the Police Department clinician and social worker. The School Department also added a number of positions to help with pandemic-related needs, Maio said.
Maio eplained that the Town Council will need to assess the priorities for the use of the funds and collaborate with the School Department. He suggested that the Tri-Board meeting of the Town Council, School Committee and Finance Committee on Oct. 21 might be a good place to start that discussion.
Maio stressed that public input will also be an important part of the process.
Town Councilor Jonathan Chines said that he supported the idea of using some of the money to improve the path around the Lake as well as for mental health support in the community.
Councilor Mehreen Butt liked the idea of a town-wide social worker and helping out businesses owned by women and minorities.
In other business this week, the Town Council:
• Approved an intermunicipal agreement between the towns or Wakefield and Reading for Animal Control Services.
• Reviewed and approved the results of the Town’s sale of $5.5 million in bonds and bond anticipation notes.
• Approved an ethics exemption for Board of Health member Candace Linehan to permit her to serve as District Nurse Practitioner for the School Department.
• Approved a request from the library to accept and expend donations in the amount of $649.35 from various donors.