ARPA door opens at tonight’s Selectboard meeting
By Chea Waters Evans
The money isn’t yet burning a hole in Charlotte’s pockets, but things are getting warmer. Federal relief funds have been distributed to ease covid-related economic hardship, and Charlotte is getting more than $1.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. What is the town going to do with all that money, and who gets to decide? The Selectboard meeting tonight allocates 20 minutes, scheduled for 8 p.m., to discuss how it’s going to work.
ARPA funds don’t need to be actually spent until 2026, but they need to be obligated by 2024, which gives about two years for the town to decide how to spend it, plan any projects, and then implement those plans. The Selectboard ultimately has the authority to choose how the money will be spent, but Selectboard ARPA-preparation point-person Lewis Mudge and Chair Matt Krasnow both agree that the people of Charlotte are the real decision-makers.
“I’d personally like to see the Selectboard agree to having any large allocation also approved by the voters,” Krasnow tells The Charlotte Bridge. “I feel it’s imperative (for the public trust and a productive use of the funding) that every step of this process needs to be transparent, accessible, fair, and open to improvement when needed.”
“This is not the Selectboard’s money,” Mudge agrees. “This is the town’s money. Before we get to any decision about how we’re going to account for a wide degree of opinions, we need to come up with a road map. We’re in an unprecedented situation.”
The process starts tonight. Krasnow says that during this time the Selectboard will “share with the community the general framework of ARPA, and then spend some time as a Board discussing [the] process and how to move forward, as well as asking for public input.”
Both Krasnow and Mudge used the phrase “once in a lifetime” to describe this chunk of change; the money amounts to almost a third of the town’s annual budget. Charlotters are already reaching out to Selectboard members to voice their opinions about how the money should be spent.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns provides guidance to municipalities. Mudge says that he has already sat in on meetings with the VLCT regarding how towns should manage the process. The organization also has people available to provide more specific help should the Selectboard need it.
Krasnow says he has three goals as the process unfolds. The first is to create a process for how to spend the money that “maximizes community input.” In addition to asking current town committees for their opinions, he said it’s also important to provide “many opportunities for individuals to contribute ideas as well.” The second goal is for the Selectboard “to determine a clear and reasonable set of criteria by which ideas can be fairly and transparently evaluated and prioritized. I think it will be important to then publish the list of approved funding candidates and the allocation amounts for public review and feedback (before final approval).” The third, Krasnow says, is to determine what requests receive funding and then manage how that works.
Mudge, who has been outspoken about transparency since his election to the Selectboard in March, emphasizes that he thinks the process should be an “open, transparent conversation with the town, with the best ways of using this money. I see this as an opportunity for us.”
He also offers a reminder that the process needs to be carefully managed and projects chosen that definitively fit within the spending guidelines. “If we get this wrong,” Mudge says, “we have to pay the money back. This absolutely has to be done right. Any decision is going to be made in a way that is sober and fact-checked. This is how grants work, and if you don’t do it correctly, you can be on the hook.”
Krasnow says community input starts after tonight. “The two-week period before the September 27th Selectboard meeting will give residents and Board members the time to have discussions with each other, with friends and family, together on FPF, and at work with colleagues who may live in other towns. A significant amount of time will be carved out at the September 27th meeting to work on solidifying an iterative, transparent and productive process that ensures this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ community funding opportunity is invested well and benefits everybody fairly and responsibly.”