What Should the Town Do with $3 million?
Last spring, the Town of Canton learned that $3,034,667.30 was on its way - half this year and the other half in 2022 - courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The question before the Town is: What can we use the money for? That question is the subject of a virtual public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, November 23 at 7 pm.
To begin answering this question, the Canton Board of Selectmen asked the Town’s Capital Improvement Committee (CIP) to recommend possible uses of the ARPA funds. The CIP Committee was chosen because its members include representatives from all three boards (Education, Finance and Selectmen). Their full plan can be reviewed here. I have summarized the plan below:
The plan’s overall theme is enhancing residents’ quality of life, which suffered as a result of the COVID pandemic. Major impacts were felt in:
• Outdoor Recreation
• Tourism/Museums and Small Business Support
• Facility Improvements
The following is a brief explanation of each:
The current plan allocates a total of $100,000 to social services and social/emotional learning support. While these figures appear low, they were recommended by our Senior & Social Services Department and Board of Education, which is drawing on an additional $409,000 to cover these needs.
We have allocated a total of $430,000 to replace air packs for the Fire and EMS departments and to strengthen physical security at Canton Town Hall. The air packs are reaching the end of their useful life; the Town offices responsible for town funds do not properly separate staff from the public.
During the pandemic, outdoor activities took center stage in the life of our town. Canton’s ARPA plan includes $1,204,000 to improve decking on the Farmington River Bike Trail, irrigate playing fields at Canton Intermediate School, replace the failing pool shell and wading pool at Mills Pond, add river access near the Public Works Garage site, and help fund a new little league field at the high school.
Nonprofit / Tourism and Small Business
The plan allocates $215,000 to reduce the impact of pandemic restrictions on local businesses and non-profit tourist attractions. These organizations have positive effects beyond providing jobs for local residents and attracting visitors to town - they are also part of Canton’s future. We expect that an eventual redevelopment of the Collins Ax Factory will require businesses located there to move - at least temporarily. These allocations are intended to supplement funds available from other sources. An application and review process would be required prior to distributing the funds.
Finally, the plan allocates $437,000 to update Town facilities, particularly the High School and Town Hall Auditoriums, improve broadband communications at Cherry Brook Primary School and in town meeting rooms, and replace furnishings in the Library and Senior Center.
Understanding that conditions change and that estimates prove inadequate, the Town ARPA plan includes a substantial contingency amount ($685,000) to fill gaps should they arise. Also, the Town continues to apply for grants to cover many of these projects. Should any grants be awarded, they will free the associated ARPA allocations for other projects.
Much as we might like, ARPA funds cannot be used to reduce the town budget or to pay down the town debt. Rather, the projects above are designed to reduce the likelihood of future expenses by doing work that would otherwise be covered by future budgets and borrowing.
Two More Things
Congress’s recent passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill may result in additional funds coming to Canton. As of this date, we do not know if those funds will be allocated and what rules will govern their use. For that reason, we cannot include those monies in this plan.
We encourage you to bring your perspective and suggestions to the ARPA hearing next week. Following the hearing, the Selectmen will rework the plan, refer it to the Board of Finance, and finally present it to a town meeting for final review and hopefully approval. Then, and only then, can the ARPA funds be distributed. As of this date, no ARPA funds have been distributed in the Town of Canton.