Meriden officials review wide range of requests for federal ARPA funding



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MERIDEN — The city has so far received more than $36.58 million in requests to fund projects with COVID-19 relief funds made available through the American Rescue Plan Act. 

That total already surpasses the close to $36.36 million in funding the city is scheduled to receive through the federal program.

The more than three dozen funding applications that have been submitted to date include several requests from city departments for infrastructure repair and upgrades.

Multiple city departments, including the Fire Department and the Department of Health & Human Services, have pending requests. So do several city non-profit groups and small businesses. 

The city’s running list of funding requests only indicates whether the City Council has approved a proposal. That list does not indicate which proposals will not be recommended for approval.

As of Dec. 10, the council had approved three of the 38 requests the city has received. The approved requests are a $1.9 million replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Meriden Public Library, the Fire Department’s $660,000 request to purchase a fire pumper, and a request from city officials to use $200,000 to fund a temporary application assistance administrator position for a period of two years. The position, while approved, hasn’t formally been posted.

The American Rescue Plan Steering Committee is tasked with evaluating applications on seven criteria, including whether the proposal identifies a need as spelled out by federal guidance around the intended use of funds, with “special emphasis on targeting of disadvantaged populations”; the clarity of the issue statement in each application; and the extent to which each application describes how it would solve an identified need.

The rubric for assessing applications also asks the steering committee to determine whether the goals in each application support the resolution of identified problems, whether the proposals include detailed budgets, whether they provide a realistic timeline and whether those applications list potential partner organizations and agencies. 

The list of requests sorts them into different categories of expenditures: public health, economic, infrastructure and other. A dozen of the projects submitted are infrastructure requests. The cost of those requests so far total close to $25.89 million. 

ARPA Steering Committee Chairwoman Yvette Cortez told the Record-Journal that the committee has agreed to cap the amount of funding it would dedicate toward infrastructure projects at 40% of total ARPA funding. Based on that cap, the total funding recommended for infrastructure would not exceed $14.54 million. 

Officials have asked applicants that submit multiple funding requests to give them a numerical priority ranking.  

Public utilities requests alone, all related to the city’s water and sewer divisions, add up to more than $12.1 million in infrastructure-related expenditures. They include a $4 million project for the lining and rehabilitation for the city’s sewer division infrastructure. The requests also include $2.5 million for the replacement of the Elmere Water Treatment Plant.

For example, two of the six water and sewer funding requests so far received have been given a ranking of “1,” indicating they are considered the highest priority. 

The pending request with the largest price tag is an $8 million application from city officials to replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at City Hall. According to city figures, that request has received a high priority ranking. 

Applicants include a partnership between the city Economic Development Department, the Record-Journal and Midstate Chamber of Commerce seeking $300,000 to fund grants for marketing assistance to Meriden businesses impacted by the pandemic.

Several businesses have submitted applications, citing economic hardships as a result of the pandemic. They include Legendz Barbershop on West Main Street, Silver CIty Ballroom, Downtown Coffee Shop and Silver City Firearms. Their requests range between $20,000 to $100,000.

‘Non-stop’ demand

Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis, an agency that provides aid for the victims of domestic violence, including transitional housing, submitted a proposal that would enable the organization to maintain its current transitional housing program, according to Linsey Walters, executive director. According to city figures, the organization’s request is for $618,000 in funding. 

“We are coming to the tail end of the federal funding that we had,” Walters told the Record-Journal on Thursday. “We want to be able to continue supporting families at the level we were.”

The organization operates a physical facility, Walters explained. The agency also provides rental and utility assistance to domestic violence victims experiencing housing transitions. 

Walters said the agency has been working “non-stop” during the pandemic. “We are one of the few nonprofits that never shut our doors,” she said. “We were kind of a hybrid in-person and virtual support [agency]. There was a period of time, during the peak of the virus, when we had to remote shelter individuals.”

Walters said the agency seeks to meet the real needs of clients — including financial assistance to cover the cost of food, utilities, rent and mortgage payments.

Requests have tripled during the pandemic, Walters said. The agency is attempting to address more needs with “less funding” than it had previously. 

But it’s not just the “sheer numbers” that has Walters and other advocates worried.

“It’s also the severity of the violence that is extremely alarming to us,” Walters said. That violence, which Walters described as “brutal,” can be found across the spectrum of cases the agency handles, including human trafficking and strangulation. Caseworkers have found people are acting out in aggressive and bizarre ways toward people they are supposed to care for, Walters explained. 

Youth programs

Other applicants have submitted projects with a focus on serving the city’s youth, including Meriden Children First Initiative, which has two proposals totaling $382,972. The proposals seek to address the economic and public health impacts of the pandemic, according to the city’s description of the applications. 

Another organization, Change the Play Inc., has two proposals totaling $95,000. One of those proposals, a $60,000 request, aims to feed students in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure and to feed other students considered at-risk. 

A third organization, called Children Must Work Inc., submitted a $2 million request to fund a proposal titled “Economic Empowerment for the Next Generation.” According to a description, the organization aims to “bridge the gap between school and working, while interrupting the school to prison pipeline by providing access to work that builds self esteem, increases responsibility and accountability, while improving valuable life skills — moving children out of poverty and into prosperity.”

Materials provided by the organization did not discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Downtown gallery

Leaders of Gallery 53, another non-profit group, on Colony Street are seeking repairs to maintain the art-centered organization’s four-story home, which overlooks the Meriden Green. The structure is close to 130 years old. The Arts & Crafts Association of Meriden Inc., which maintains the gallery, is 114 years old. 

That organization’s offerings — including classes, galleries and showings — had been curtailed, especially early on in the pandemic. Classes and other events have resumed, albeit with smaller capacities. 

The organization has a $779,000 funding request, which would cover the costs to replace the building’s roof and replace its more than a century-year-old elevator, which is prone to mechanical failures. 

Sandy Goodyear, Gallery 53’s director, said the organization had been able to fund previous renovations and other building upkeep in part through the classes and other events it offers, gift shop sales, along with constant grant writing. 

“When the pandemic struck, we had to cancel almost all of that. But we still had the building with all operating expenses,” Goodyear said. Around the same time the pandemic struck was when the organization learned the building’s roof needed to be replaced. The original cost was quoted around $60,000. Now leaders know the roof will cost $230,000 to replace. 

Goodyear said other than the roof and the elevator, the building is sound and impressive. 

“For handicap accessibility, we need that elevator. We’re looking at the fact, if we can’t get a roof, we can’t continue in our building,” Goodyear said. 

More requests sought

Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who sits on the steering committee, said the city has received a decent number of applications, but “not enough.” 

“We need to make sure we’re using these funds to the best of our ability and helping as many people as possible,” Scarpati said. 

He stressed the importance of educating the public and encouraging groups and small business owners to apply. 

Scarpati said he would like to see more programs geared for economic development, in particular a start-up program that could help small businesses launch. 

“Let’s put some money aside to really spur growth and development. Whether it’s downtown… I would like to see forward thinking for these investment opportunities,” Scarpati said. 

mgagne@record-journal.com203-317-2231Twitter:@MikeGagneRJ



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