Wallingford councilors, mayor to nominate ARPA panel members

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WALLINGFORD — The Town Council meeting on Tuesday will include discussion of creating a committee to review applications from businesses and nonprofits to receive a portion of the federal pandemic relief funds that the town is receiving.

Under the format approved during the last council meeting on June 28, each of the nine councilors will be able to nominate one committee member, with another nominee coming from Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., for a total of 10 members. The council also specified that any action the committee takes requires a seven-member supermajority.

The committee will evaluate applications from qualifying entities to seek some of the $13.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding the town is planning to distribute. Half that money has been earmarked for businesses and nonprofits, split evenly between the two.

The council further refined its qualifications for businesses to be eligible to apply for funding during its last meeting, limiting them to businesses under 60 employees and capping grants at $25,000. The council also voted to limit nonprofits to grants that would support residents — rather than both businesses and residents.

Council Vice Chair Thomas Laffin said he hopes that all the councilors will come with their nominees ready so that the composition of the body can be approved on Tuesday.

“All the councilors should be arriving with their nominees and we will be appointing them that night,” he said.

Councilors Vincent Testa and Jason Zandri said they both anticipate having nominees ready for Tuesday.

“I have a few names I'm thinking about and people I'm talking to and I should have someone in mind next week,” Testa said.

Zandri said he’s looking at nominees that are experienced in the relief programs the state and federal governments have provided throughout the pandemic, as well as how the money could impact the organizations receiving it.

“I want them to have a good understanding of not only the business community, but how nonprofits operate. It would be helpful if they've got a financial background,” he said. “ … They’ve got to have a good grasp of business fundamentals and nonprofit organization fundamentals.”

Zandri said he supports the framework approved for the committee two weeks ago, with the belief that the seven vote threshold for action will promote a more deliberate approach and prevent a subset of the committee from dominating its decisions.

Laffin said the original design of the committee, which he based on the charter review commission framework in the Town Charter, would have given a voting voice to the Economic Development Commission and Youth and Social Services Department, both of whom he sees as vital in understanding the business and nonprofit communities.

His ideal nominees would have qualifications and provide expertise in the areas the committee will be examining. He worries, however, that there’s potential for some of the nominees to be made politically, rather than based on their experience.

“I am worried some of the other councilors will treat the appointments as another political vehicle,” he said. “ … I do worry that people may be appointed to the committee that really don't have an interest in providing money for the nonprofits and businesses, but I hope I'm wrong.”

The council will continue the process of editing drafts of the applications businesses and nonprofits will use to solicit the committee for grants. Those are being written by the town Law Department and the consulting firm UHY, which the town hired to aid in distributing the ARPA funds. The applications were not ready to be brought before the council for this upcoming meeting, Laffin said.

Reporter Devin Leith-Yessian can be reached at dleithyessian@record-journal.com.


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