MERIDEN — The City Council, over a series of votes, approved city officials’ requests to establish a new grants manager position in the finance department, a new public safety tech support position, and to upgrade an existing public works traffic manager position from part-time to full-time.
The council also voted to approve library officials’ requests to restore three formerly funded positions that previously had been eliminated. They include two librarian positions and one clerk position.
The measures to establish new positions passed narrowly, each by one vote, 6-5, margins, as Democratic City Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella joined Republicans and We the People in opposing their creation. Fontanella, meanwhile, said he supported restoring the previously funded library positions. That measure passed by a 7-to-4 vote.
Fontanella, during the council’s deliberations on the resolution to convert the traffic manager position to full-time, said he opposed the measure with the city facing a 4.2% budget increase in the upcoming fiscal year. He said it’s not the time to be “adding personnel.”
“This is the time to be trimming,” Fontanella said. He echoed his objection when the council took up the resolution to establish the grants manager position. Grants manager
The proposal to establish the grants manager position, whose salary without benefits was listed as $105,000, was the most extensively discussed among the personnel requests.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati joined the councilors who opposed the position’s creation. Scarpati recapped discussions during the joint personnel and finance committee meeting from a week earlier, in which officials estimated that around 75% of the grants manager’s time would be spent managing and reporting on grants, while 25% of that person’s time would be spent assisting department heads to find new grant funds.
Scarpati noted that a similar position, a grants administrator within the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development, is currently unfilled. That position is partly funded by federal Community Development Block Grant funds the city receives and tasked with managing that overall block of funds.
The mayor said should the position “be approved this evening that does not lock us into funding it.” Scarpati said the council still has the ability to reduce that and other positions by not funding them within the budget, and he, as mayor, has the ability to veto them as well.
City Councilor Michael Rohde asked City Manager Timothy Coon what is the total amount of grants the city needs to monitor and track. Coon referred the question to Finance Director Kevin McNabola.
McNabola said the total value of federal and state grants the city receives is more than $150 million. That total does not include Board of Education funds. ARPA funds
McNabola then referenced the more than $36 million federal American Rescue Plan Act monies the city has received, noting that the city has so far approved close to 50 projects for use of those funds. McNabola said based on all the numbers, the city is managing close to 200 grants.
McNabola’s response prompted Rohde to mention the feedback he’s received from the leaders of organizations that have been approved for ARPA funds.
“Things are slow. It’s taking forever to go through the process. If we approve this position, does it mean things will move quicker in that regard?” Rohde asked.
“I would expect, definitely, it would move quicker,” McNabola said, adding his focus has been on those ARPA funding requests.
Scarpati said he has similarly heard frustration from applicants as well. The city hired one consultant when the ARPA process began, and since then added two more.
“Maybe it’s because we’re learning as we’re going, with the help of consultants and additional staff,” Scarpati said. Still, the mayor said he doesn’t not see the need for a position to help manage a short-term grant that will be expiring in the next couple of years.
“I don’t see the position moving away as the American Rescue Plan moves away,” Scarpati said.