BELLOWS FALLS — Small towns in Windham County had a message for a squad of officials from the Scott administration Monday afternoon: navigating the regulations dealing with ARPA funding is hard.
Town administrators from Marlboro, Londonderry and select board members from Brookline and Athens said they were not staffed to deal with the requirements of how to spend their American Rescue Plan windfall, their share of the national $1.9 trillion, authorized in 2021 to support the economy hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The answer to many of their questions was only half-jokingly to call Katie Buckley at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, who happens to be a former town administrator for the small town of Guilford, and who has helped many Windham County towns already.
One other suggestion: the towns could actually use some of their ARPA funds to hire someone to help them navigate the requirements.
The Scott administration has been visiting counties, one by one, in recent months, to talk about government issues. Monday’s visit included dozens of top-level officials, and there were meetings in Wilmington, Townshend, Brattleboro, Marlboro, Dover, Bellows Falls and Putney, talking about everything from libraries to agriculture, education, housing and ARPA.
The meeting in Bellows Falls mirrored a meeting earlier in the day in Wilmington, according to Adam Grinold of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. He said the town officials who attended raised many of the same issues as were raised Monday in Bellows Falls. He suggested towns could use some of their funds to hire the expertise they lack.
“Be creative,” Grinold said. “We understand you have 10 other jobs.”
Grinold said the towns are very concerned about doing things right. Towns must decide how they are going to spend the funds by the end of 2024, and the funds must be spent by the end of 2026. The funds may not be spent on municipal pensions or debt service.
The 24 towns in Windham County have a total of $12.5 million to spend: the money was allocated according to population, with the money being distributed at about $300 per person. For instance, rural Rockingham received about $400,000, while the more populated Bellows Falls received more than $800,000.
Rockingham Town Manager Scott Pickup said after the meeting, which was held in the Lower Theater in the Town Hall, that Rockingham was putting its ARPA funds toward a local match of a large federal grant for renovations to the historic Rockingham Meeting House, the ongoing project to renovate the old Bellows Falls train station, and putting a new roof on the town hall.
Chris Campany, executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, which is heavily involved in helping the towns access the different funds available, said towns could use their ARPA funds as matches for other grants, and to tackle projects that otherwise would seem out of reach financially.
Campany said that many towns were still making decisions, and moving slowly because they felt “a high level of accountability.”
Using the money for “transformational” projects makes a lot of sense, he said.