OPINION: The different ways of handling ARPA money

There has been an interesting contrast in how municipalities have been going about spending money from the American Rescue Plan Act. When I think of ARPA funding, the observation from Maria Campos-Harlow, executive director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, still comes to mind: that it’s “a unique opportunity to do something meaningful” for the community.

I certainly agree with that, but what does it mean to do something meaningful?

In Southington, which has $13 million to spend in stimulus funds, the money will go toward infrastructure improvements. The plan was approved unanimously by the Town Council at the end of last year, the idea being “to use it to benefit the entire town,” as Victoria Triano, the Republican Town Council chairwoman, put it.

You can admire the simplicity of that approach, but it also means Southington will be missing out on opportunity, opportunity that’s been on display in Meriden, where a City Council committee has been handling applications from the community and making recommendations.

Wallingford, which has $13.1 million to spend, has just gotten around to taking a similar approach. It should probably surprise no one that ARPA funding would become the latest in the perennial battle for power between the mayor and the Town Council, but now at least there’s a committee to evaluate applications from businesses and nonprofit organizations. Each of the nine members of the council, and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., got to nominate a committee member.

I don’t know how much coordination there was, or if there was any, when it came to the committee, but the result is a broad representation of the community. Councilor Craig Fishbein nominated himself, so that puts somebody from the council on board. 

I imagine that this is along the lines of what Chris Palmieri was talking about when he was recommending an approach for Southington. As the R-J reported, the Democratic town councilor said he “would have preferred establishing a public committee comprised of residents and representatives from different boards to decide how to disburse funds awarded to the town through ARPA.”

“I know other communities have done this.” he said. “This could have been a great way to support small businesses, nonprofit organizations and town departments. The money is intended to assist in recovery efforts from the pandemic.”

That’s a good encapsulation, though in Southington Republicans were so successful in the most recent municipal election they don’t have to pay heed to such advice.

They ought to try anyway. While the committee work in Meriden has been exhausting you could also say that it’s been worth it. I’ll just pick an application at random to illustrate the point.

The council’s steering committee scaled back a proposal from Meriden Little League to fund a host of improvements to the Ed Walsh Little League Complex on Overlook Road, trimming the $624,500 request to $200,676. Now city leaders have a detailed understanding of what goes on behind Little League operations in the city and of the league’s priorities.

That type of examination has been going on when it comes to all sorts of aspects of life in Meriden. Southington would benefit from such an approach.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.



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