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ARPA funds begin to flow

Town anticipates $3 million

BY JASON STARR

Observer staff

Typically, a town government would have to request—either through a town-wide vote for borrowing authority or through state and federal grant applications — the large sums of money that are currently being distributed under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed into federal law earlier this year.

Williston’s first installment of this unsolicited windfall — which will total $3 million, about a third of the town’s annual budget — is expected to arrive in August, according to Town Manager Erik Wells. It is offered under the umbrella of pandemic relief.

“It’s very rare to get an amount of money like this, and it may never happen again. So we’re trying to think of a good way to invest those funds for the community,” Wells said. “That’s likely a conversation I’ll bring to the selectboard in the next couple months … to define a process and pull together some more finite ideas.”

There’s a caveat, however, with two-thirds ($2 million) of the total Williston allocation.

The town was expecting all of it’s ARPA funds to come directly to town coffers, but the legislation was written so that $121 million in funds earmarked for Vermont municipalities must first flow through county governments. That amounts to about $32 million for Chittenden County. But Vermont county governments, unlike those in most states where county governments are much more robust, is not set up to handle that kind of money. The allocation dwarfs the county’s $1.2 million annual budget.

“Almost all Vermont counties conduct business limited to county court and the Sheriff’s Department, and their employees serve limited roles,” the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office wrote in a June memo. “Yet the ARPA funds going to counties must be spent in specific areas far outside the areas of expertise of county employees in Vermont.”

The Vermont Congressional delegation has been lobbying the U.S. Treasury to amend ARPA rules and allow the county money to come to the State of Vermont for distribution to municipalities.

“There hasn’t been a resolution yet,” Wells said. “It’s a bit murky right now.”

In total, about $1.1 billion is expected to be received by state and local governments in Vermont through ARPA.

“These ARPA funds give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make transformational investments to help us recover from the pandemic stronger and build a more prosperous Vermont,”

Gov. Phil Scott said in a press release last week. “That’s why I’ve proposed historic investments in housing, combating climate change, broadband, water/sewer infrastructure and more. This also provides the opportunity for municipalities to make their own investments based on the needs of their communities.”

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