OPINION: Awaiting a big proposal in Meriden

Meriden continues to be active in distributing money from its $36 million share of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which aims to help communities recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. A recent Record-Journal report put the remaining money at $18.07 million, about half of the allotment. So there’s still a long way to go.

Many applications make small dents in the overall allotment to the city, which means the committee tasked with sorting through all of this is remaining busy. One thing to look for is a big request, which at least one member of the committee has said is desirable. A giant Meriden project would sure be interesting.

The City Council on Tuesday approved three requests that add up to being just short of $400,000. Though, as the R-J reported, discussion about them was brief during the council meeting, there were comments from the public, and there had been considerable discussion by the American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee charged with making recommendations. This is a lot of work, even behind applications that aren’t that big or necessarily controversial. Approved was funding for the Meriden Little League and improvements to the Ed Walsh Little League Complex on Overlook Road. After several meetings, the steering committee recommended authorizing $200,676 in ARPA funding for the fields. The initial request had been for $624,500.

The other approvals were for American Legion Post 45, for more energy efficient windows at its 835 Hanover Road building, and $156,000 for a three-year program to expand a youth mentorship program.

A big project was set aside for further deliberation. That was a $5 million request from city economic development officials for something that could really make a difference. The idea is to try to ease the way when it comes to costly code compliance so property owners have a better shot at making use of empty buildings.

This is called the Meriden Commercial Space Upgrade Program. When you read about proposals like this you run into words like incentivize, but basically what’s going on is offering grants to property owners to make upgrades so buildings are in compliance with building and zoning regulations. If vibrant buildings are the result, it’s worth it.

The steering committee had recommended the funding, but the full council wasn’t quite ready. Because there were concerns about implementation, the proposal was referred to the council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee. “We wanted to make sure we have all of those details sorted out,” said City Councilor Yvette Cortez.

Not everything is getting approved. Earlier this month the council rejected an application by Change the Play, which was looking for $60,000 to buy a refrigerated van and to cover other costs to help the organization’s after-school and summer meal programs. A trimmed-down version of that request might have found a more favorable response.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who is also on the steering committee, broke the tie council vote on the application. “I truly felt a reasonable compromise was to solely fund the van portion of the request,” he said.

What he said next was more intriguing: “I would like to see bigger picture projects. It’s great that we’re helping out small business, but I would like to see programs or applications that will make a meaningful impact.”

That sounds like an invitation.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com


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