MERIDEN — A new committee will make recommendations for using the millions of dollars in federal coronavirus recovery funds city officials anticipate receiving.
The nine-member Meriden American Rescue Plan Steering Committee’s mission includes gathering community input and understanding regulations around expending American Rescue Plan funds, before making recommendations to the council on their use.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to establish the panel.
City officials anticipate receiving a total of more than $36 million in recovery funds through multiple streams: direct funding from the American Rescue Plan, plus other allocations through county allocations and state-controlled pass-through funding sources.
Separately, the school district is scheduled to receive its own pool of funding, which will be dispersed through the State Department of Education, to address educational needs, including additional tutoring and behavioral health support for students.
The American Rescue Plan Steering Committee will be comprised of nine members: Mayor Kevin Scarpati, three City Council members, City Manager Timothy Coon, city Finance Director Kevin McNabola, along with a representative from the Board of Education and two at-large community members. Two of the steering committee’s city councilors would be members of the majority party and a third member will represent the minority party caucus.
Those chosen to sit on the steering committee would do so until Dec. 31, 2024, according to the resolution related to its formation.
The council discussed the proposed committee during a videoconferenced meeting Monday night.
Coon told councilors the rationale for forming the committee is to allow Council and community input into how recovery funds are distributed and utilized. Coon explained the funding should be distributed in two installments, each of them totaling around $18 million. He said the intent is for the committee to serve as a “collection point” for proposed projects, programs and other initiatives that meet criteria spelled out in American Rescue Plan guidelines.
“The intent behind the makeup for the board is to allow for a cross section of the community to be able to review, and propose programs, for recommendation to council. The staff will also be providing recommendations to the committee as well, so there is as broad a cross-section of the community as possible,” Coon said.
The funding the city is scheduled to receive must be allocated by 2024 and fully expended by 2026, Coon said.
Republican Councilor Dan Brunet, the minority party leader, questioned whether having a member of the Board of Education sit on the committee would pose a conflict of interest because the board is also look at its own funding pool.
“Or is this more of an ad hoc committee?” Brunet asked.
Coon, in an exchange that briefly included corporation counsel Matthew McGoldrick, said he would be “hard pressed to find any reason why” a Board of Education member could not serve on the committee.
“This is not a voting authorization committee. This is a recommendation committee,” Coon said. “The actual authorization to expend the funds would be from the council itself.”
Coon added, “The intent behind [having] the Board of Education member on this committee is to make sure we can coordinate activities with the city funds in the city lane and the Board of Education funds in the Board of Education lane.”
Democratic Majority Leader Sonya Jelks followed Coon’s comments by describing the committee as “a wonderful opportunity” to provide support in areas officials have long sought to fund.
“It gives us an opportunity as a community to look at what are some of our goals, or challenges we try to deal with on an annual basis,” Jelks said, adding she welcomes residents and business leaders alike to participate in the process. “I look forward to seeing these funds be used to move Meriden forward.”
Those interested in becoming members of the steering committee should contact Scarpati’s office by phone at 203-630-4125 or by emailing email@example.com. Residents can also reach out via social media.
Scarpati said he hopes to have a list of names to forward to the council as a whole within a few weeks. The committee, he said, is going to be tasked with reviewing a number of different programs and initiatives.
Scarpati explained he would like to receive interest from individuals, including business owners and nonprofit leaders, who have been impacted directly by the pandemic, to serve on the committee.
“Having the perspective of someone who has lived through the pandemic in such a way they have a greater understanding of what these funds could be used for is important,” Scarpati said.