WALLINGFORD — The ARPA Applications Review Committee will finally get its first look at requests for federal pandemic relief funding after concerns were raised as to why it took so long to get the applications from the consultant the town hired to facilitate the process.
“We are starting to work,” said committee Vice Chairman Mike Glidden. “We just got the first phase of the nonprofit applications to review.”
Nonprofits and businesses had a Dec. 9 deadline to submit applications for a piece of the $13.5 million the town received to help mitigate the negative economic and health impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, now entering its fourth year.
Town officials decided to dedicate up to half of that amount to go toward small businesses and nonprofits and invited applications from those sectors for the money. The remaining funds will go toward municipal projects.
To help with the application process, the town hired UHY Consultants of Farmington, which was charged with reviewing the applications for completeness and then passing them on to the committee.
The committee was originally promised to have those applications by Jan. 13 but had only received 29 of the estimated 50 nonprofit submissions by last week, and none of the small business applications.
“We were concerned with the timing,” Glidden said, “but that part of the conversation is over and now we will get to work.”
Concerns also arose at the Jan. 10 Town Council meeting, when some council members had questions about billing UHY submitted to the town in light of the fact that as of that date, the committee hadn’t been able to meet because it had received nothing from the consultants. The council was being asked to transfer $65,000 to an account to be used for “the next phase of the project.”
Councilor Christina Tatta said she requested information as to how much the town had paid UHY to date, for what work the town was billed and what exactly was the division of labor between the committee and the consultants.
“I think some of us are unsure of what the consultant’s role is going forward,” she said. “I want to make sure we are clear on what we are spending the money on. I just don’t want us to get to see a bill down the road and think that it was something that we thought the committee was going to do but we actually had the consultants do or vice versa.”
When he got the consultant’s November bill, there was only $9,200 in the account used to pay them, said town Comptroller Timothy Sena, which prompted him to make the $65,000 request for what he anticipates it will cost going forward.
“To not have to keep projecting out, that’s probably what we are going to need to get through what they’re doing now working with the applicants so that’s where that number came from,” Sena said. The consultant’s bills from November and December totaled $21,375, Sena said, so that would leave about $47,000 left to pay for upcoming bills.
His office is going to be utilizing the consultants because they will have to input every grant awarded into a federal system “that is not very user-friendly,” he said.
“I would hope this is all we would need, but I’m not sure how entailed what they’re doing is right now and how much time they’re spending,” he said.
Councilor Sam Carmody was dismayed that a UHY representative didn’t attend the meeting.
“I had hoped they would be here by phone tonight, especially since it looks like we’re going to be spending close to $100,000, it would have been nice for them to participate and answer any questions that we had,” he said, adding he wanted to know what tasks the consultants are doing.
“We do have a volunteer committee, and I feel some of this work is redundant,” Carmody said. “I think the committee was tasked with reviewing all the applications as well so I’m just worried that we’re possibly spending more money than we need to be spending.”
When contacted Friday, a woman answering the phone at UHY said they had no comment and referred questions back to town officials.
“The consultant now is reviewing applications received, looking for completeness and if they’re lacking any information, and they’re doing that cursory review,” said Mayor William Dickinson Jr. “Once it passes that, it will go to the committee.”
“It was my understanding that the committee will be able to see all applications that were submitted to the town,” Carmody said.
“Certainly the applications are public so I don’t see any problem with anyone seeing all of the applications,” Dickinson said, “but I don’t think the committee necessarily would have detailed knowledge of the ARPA standards and expectations of federal offices as to what we’re doing with the money.
“I don’t think committee members would have that so that’s why we have a consultant with that expertise to review, make sure that what’s being requested meets with the standards and regulations in law and then that can be passed on to the committee,” Dickinson added. “I don’t think the committee as a whole would have any real expertise about what the ARPA standards are.”