Even when the City was in total crisis mode a year ago within the original and deadly surge of COVID-19, the economic impacts on City coffers was already in the back of minds of many local leaders.
In a year’s time, revenues from airport and hospitality industries have plummeted, and the joblessness from it all has gobbled up millions in emergency relief – much of it paid for by the City. Now, the City has been assured of several million dollars in aid from the American Rescue Plan, and more importantly, from an allocation from Gov. Charlie Baker – totaling perhaps as much as $40 million in the first direct federal aid funds for municipalities.
The total amounts from both sources likely won’t trickle down from the federal government for another month, but already local leaders are prioritizing what needs to be done.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they still have COVID-19 relief to tend to, but a high priority will be replacing millions in lost revenues – particularly due to the slowdown at Logan Airport.
“With respect to spending, our first order of business is for the City to restore its lost revenues from COVID, which may amount to $15 million or more by the time the pandemic ends,” he said. “Any additional funds will be utilized by the City to address COVID impacts, including housing instability, food insecurity and small business losses. These have been the priority areas for the City since the pandemic began, and we will continue to prioritize these areas with any new monies from ARPA.”
Councilor Leo Robinson said he would like to see more youth opportunities, but first and foremost he said the City should take it very slowly when deciding where to put the funds.
“My biggest priority is not to run out and spend the money,” he said. “Let’s sit down and talk about the best uses for this money. Once everyone sees we got all these federal dollars, they’ll be trying to grab it. I have already had conversations about being careful. We need clear priorities. Will we develop recreational opportunities for the youth in the community or will we go on doing what we’re doing and not offering the young people much at all.”
Council President Roy Avellaneda said he would be looking for infrastructure investments, such as modernizing public buildings and improving the Council’s electronic meeting access.
“I’m very much interested in seeing how much of that money will be spent on infrastructure,” he said. “You will certainly be using some of it for rental assistance and probably money infused into Chelsea Eats and the food pantries. The other part is I’d like significant money spent on our infrastructure. We have to go into our schools and buildings and retrofit the drinking fountains and sinks and doorways to make sure everything is touchless. That could stop things from spreading in the future like COVID-19 or even the flu. I’ll be watching and paying attention to what’s presented to the City Council.”