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OPINION: Not a fair process with ARPA funding

By Christina Tatta

It is no secret that I have been critical of the way the town of Wallingford has handled its ARPA funds from the start. I attempted to have all of our funds from the federal government (totaling approximately $13.1 million) spent on town projects and infrastructure.  My opinion was, and still is, that the fairest way to spend this money is to divide it among ALL taxpayers in town.  How could this have been accomplished?  Simply by spending it on items that would otherwise require us to raise taxes to pay for them. For example, we could have allocated $2 million to redo stretches of sidewalk that are in dire need of replacement. We could have spent several million on a variety of capital items (fire trucks, police equipment, town hall building repairs, etc.) that will now appear in future budgets and will need to be paid for with increased taxes. 

I wanted to avoid having politicians choose “winners and losers.”  However, a majority of the council and the administration decided the money would be best spent going to businesses and nonprofits. If there was leftover money, then and only then would we spend it on town projects, they opined. 

A consultant was hired. To date, we have spent $87,772.53 on said consultant.  The funds to pay the consultant’s bill came from the ARPA funds, or, in other words, your tax dollars which could have gone to pay for things on which you will now be taxed.  There have been some criticisms of the consultant’s work, notably that some applicants were given different assistance than others, and that certain applications the consultant passed through did not meet the federal guidelines.  This needs to be looked into further.

The council appointed a committee to review the applications. I liked this idea. I thought it would take the politics out of who would be deemed a “winner” or a “loser.” I thought the group was a great representation of various backgrounds, business experiences, and nonprofit knowledge.  The committee has been extremely thorough with each and every application, ensuring that all guidelines set by the federal government and our own local town council are met.

But now the committee has notified the council that they will not be reviewing any more nonprofit applications, and they may make the same decision about business applications.  In other words, the committee is on the brink of disbanding itself.

Why is this happening?

At the special Town Council meeting of March 21, 2023, the Council discussed how to deal with the applications the committee graded as not passing (the “losers”).  (The passing scores the council previously set were: nonprofits 75, and businesses 70.)  In other words, these applicants did not meet the federal and/or town criteria to receive funds.  The council was provided the list of these specific applicants.  Then, a councilor made a motion “to approve all current and future applications that have an average score plus one standard deviation of the individual scores which will vary by request.”  The motion passed 6-2, with Councilor CraigFishbein and me being the 2 no votes.

To reiterate, the passing score criteria was changed AFTER we saw who did not make the cut. So why change the pass/fail line after the committee already identified who did not reach that line?  Why change the passing score from a simple passing number to a convoluted mathematical equation? Could it be perhaps that after seeing one’s favored applicant did not make the cut, that changing the scoring so that this applicant now would receive money could be the reason?  Might changing the pass/fail line accommodate a specific applicant who was on the “fail” list who is a supporter of a councilor? We need not speculate, as specific applicant’s names were actually provided during the course of the discussion. 

The purpose of the committee was to take the politics out of the awarding of funds. Is it any wonder that the committee is now considering resigning after the Council’s actions?

The council had already painstakingly established the required criteria to receive ARPA funds. The committee, with an unbiased eye, held the applicants to those criteria. When the criteria were changed midway through the process, it was not only unfair to the competent committee we appointed, it was unfair to the taxpayers and to all of the applicants. What if a business or nonprofit did not apply because they felt their application would not meet the criteria?  But now, after it’s too late, maybe they would have met them after all, because the bar for passing was lowered.  That is not a fair process.  It is a process that has been clouded with special interests and personal connections from the start, and now it looks like it will be the council’s problem to fix the mess it has created.

Republican Christina Tatta is a Wallingford town councilor.




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