Council discusses community input on ARPA funds

A City Council subcommittee met last week to hear more about Chelsea’s ARPA Community Advisory Committee, a 20-member board that will help dictate how the city can best use $15 million in federal Covid-19 relief funds.

Most of the questions from the councillors, however, were about the balance of the federal relief funds, about $25 million, that City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said he is earmarking for future capital improvement projects.

Ambrosino said he anticipates the $25 million will fall under the “lost revenue” portion of the ARPA relief funding, while the advisory council will make recommendations on priorities and strategies to spend the $15 million on areas such as home ownership and rental assistance, small business programs, and mental and behavioral health programs.

“I have carved that amount ($25 million) out to put in the lost revenue bucket, with a commitment to the (city) council that will be recommending that we spend that on capital projects,” said Ambrosino. “We have hundreds of millions of dollars of capital projects.”

In the FY 23 Capital Improvement Plan, Ambrosino said there is currently $17 million anticipated in capital improvement projects.

“It will be a real benefit to the city to use cash as opposed to borrowing; it will make our financial position much better in the future,” said Ambrosino. 

The money that falls under the purview of the community advisory council is reasonably broad and falls in line with many of the things the City Council has already agreed to spend Covid relief funds on, said the City Manager.

“To engage the community, we’ve put together this ARPA community engagement process and created this ARPA Community Advisory Committee for the purpose of having that committee oversee a process and eventually make recommendations to me for how they wish to spend that money,” said Ambrosino. “Frankly, I don’t expect any real surprises. I do expect they are going to make recommendations to spend those dollars in some of the same broad categories that the council previously recommended, with some minor tweaks here and there.”

While the advisory committee can make recommendations on what areas it would like to see the money spent on, such as rental assistance or behavioral health programs, Ambrosino said it can not recommend specific organizations that can receive the money. Those recommendations will be made by Ambrosino and approved by the City Council.

The advisory committee recently held its first meeting, and plans to hold a total of seven meetings, along with several community forums and interviews with city residents and agencies, before presenting its findings by the end of February.

Council President Roy Avellaneda circled back to the $25 million in Covid funds that will be used for capital projects, and asked Ambrosino what projects were on the table.

Ambrosino said when the next five-year capital improvement plan is presented to the City Council next year, there will be a column that designates projects that will be paid for through the ARPA funds.

Some of those potential projects include upgrades at Veterans Field and Carter Park.

“There are all these things the school department has wanted to do, and we’ve held off because we really can’t afford these things, and now some of these things will be affordable,” said Ambrosino.

District 1 Councillor Todd Taylor brought up the possibility of funding a long talked about municipal parking garage.

Ambrosino said that while that project might not be at the top of the list, the ability to pay cash for other capital projects could help make a parking project a reality sooner rather than later. He also noted that if the City Council decides it wants to use some of the $25 million for programs outside of capital projects, he would listen to that.

However, Ambrosino said he believes many of the items outside of capital projects can be addressed by the advisory committee’s recommendations for the use of the $15 million in ARPA funds.

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