The most substantive item on last night’s agenda was the roll-out of the administration’s plan for the expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds. The city received a windfall of nearly 76 million dollars in APRA funds and we must have this cash “obligated” by December 31, 2024 (funds must be spent by December 31, 2026).
The plan was not available to the public prior to the start of last night’s meeting. Councilor Jenness was kind enough to post a copy on social media after the meeting. Manager Golden explained that he wanted the council to see the presentation before releasing the document to the public. I have not had much time to go over it in detail, but as one would expect the plan sets forth the administration’s priorities for spending allocations in several categories:
The raw numbers for each category were outline as follows:
- Social Impact Programs = $13.4 Million
- Lowell Fire Department Apparatus Replacement Plan = $10 Million
- Lowell Neighborhood Improvement = $9 Million
- Municipal Building Improvements = $7 Million
- Water & Sewer Infrastructure Improvements = $10.6 Million
- Economic Development & Recovery = $5.8 Million
- Non-Profit Support = $4.6 Million
- Public Health Efforts, Premium Pay, & Compliance = $5.6 Million
The presentation was brief, and councilors’ comments were surprisingly succinct. It was stressed that this plan is a “working document,” subject to change and revision. My first-glance impression is that the administration did a good job at hitting most if not all of the notes this council has been hammering since day one.
I do have some questions as to how, exactly, the some of these funds will be distributed. As one example, $13.4 Million has been allocated for Social Impact Programs with “external partnerships”:
The presentation was a bit vague in this regard. What will the application, award, and oversight processes look like? How will citizens be assured that they are getting the best “bang for their buck” with these partnerships? Hopefully details will emerge in the near future.
The only other minor gripe I have is that there was no acknowledgement as to how any of these expenditures address our long-term goals as outlined in our Master Plan. The presentation made reference to how the ARPA Plan addressed recent motions filed by this council (Ex: June’s “Racism/Public Health Motion”). I view this as a flaw in the way these discussions are framed. There is, after all, a significant amount of overlap between the goals of ARPA Plan and the more long-term Master Plan:
Accordingly, it would be nice to get into the habit of making explicit reference to how the decisions made each week interact with a more long-term vision.
Finally, Congresswoman Trahan was on-hand to address the council as to the opportunities presented to the city by ARPA funds, as well as a the recent “bipartisan” Infrastructure Law. Thanks to efforts at the federal level, the city is poised benefit from funds that will lead to much-needed improvements in our infrastructure. Highlights cited include, but are not limited to: a new Rourke Bridge, repairs along 495, repairs to Chelmsford Street, the VFW Highway and Rout 38. In addition, there remains 1.1 Billion and 2.5 billion in federal funding yet to be doled out for water and public transportation projects, respectively.
This is, of course, all promising news. We have never had an opportunity to throw so much cash at so many problems in a relatively short period of time. One can only hope that we hit our targets.