Volunteer to help decide how to spend $3M in Town ARPA funds

by Beth Melo on November 23, 2021

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Town’s decision to create an ARPA Committee. The Select Board is charging a seven member committee with making recommendations on how to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Town is eligible for reimbursements up to $3,051,241.

Some restrictions apply to how ARPA funds can be used. But the terms allow for a lot of possibilities.

The Select Board will make the decision on how to spend funds.* But first, the Board wants public input on how to handle the “one time” opportunity.

Last week, the Board approved the specific committee charge, including confirming its composition. An announcement issued by the Town is now seeking two “Southborough residents who are not currently members of an appointed or elected Town board or committee.”

Although the language doesn’t specify, earlier in the month Select Board members expressed preference for new blood – someone who hasn’t served on any past committees. 

Volunteering for the committee is just one of the ways residents can influence the Board’s decision. The committee will be responsible for seeking wider input through surveys and forums.

Recommendations are to be presented to the Board this spring. While the final deadline is May 16th, anything that would impact budgets in the 2022 Annual Town Meeting is due by March 1st. 

The number of at large positions was reduced from three to two to add a member of the Planning Board to the committee. Select Board members agreed that one who served on the Master Plan Committee would be their preference. 

Those three members would serve alongside:

  • 1 member of the Advisory Committee;
  • 2 members of the Capital Planning Committee;
  • 1 member of the Economic Development Committee;

Applicants should fill out a form here. (As of this morning, the committee was not yet listed among the ones applicants are asked to select in the online form. I’d advise writing it in under the Narrative section. You can follow up to make sure they received it by emailing selectmenoffice@southboroughma.com.)

While the Town has posted the committee charge, it doesn’t appear to accurately capture the Select Board’s final vote on the 16th. In the meeting, members discussed softening language in the fourth duty:

The Committee shall develop an evaluation tool to rank proposals for funding, taking into account the benefit of the requested improvement to Town operations and/or the community as a whole;

They decided to replace “shall develop” with “shall consider developing”. (They also discussed specifying members as including one member of the “Planning Board and/or the Master Plan Committee”.)

*I should note that if any of the spending the Board approves is related to a project/budget that requires approval by Town Meeting, then voters will make the ultimate decision.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 New Blood? November 23, 2021 at 9:49 AM

Are you KIDDING?

One vote among 5? What sort of influence or control is that? This is another example of SB BS. Is it not curious that the SB wants fo form committees to “obtain community input”, then be the final arbiter over any decision reached by the committees? What’s the point? If the SB is going to make the final call, then why go through all of the time delaying and personal energy wasting activities of having meetings, public hearings, etc. only to result in the SB making the final call.

It will be a case of “We didn’t like what you came up with, so we’re going to decide for the town”.

SB – do you think nobody can see the political games you’re playing? The people of this town aren’t too stupid!

It’s looking more and more like delay, followed by obfuscation, etc. Isn’t that called “politics”?

Time for some “fresh blood” all right – like new members of the SB!

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2 beth November 23, 2021 at 10:11 AM

Clarification – two votes among seven.

I believe that members of a committee also have influence beyond their individual votes. They can ask questions and make comments that help shape discussions. And I wouldn’t assume that the committee’s recommendations will have no influence on the Select Board’s decision.

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3 Dean Dairy November 23, 2021 at 10:08 AM

“Some restrictions apply to how ARPA funds can be used. But the terms allow for a lot of possibilities… to handle the ‘one time’ opportunity.”

Can my city decrease taxes after receiving these funds?

The rule that would prohibit tax decreases is a restriction only on states. The local government section of the bill contains no prohibition on lowering taxes.

ARPA Local Relief Frequently Asked Questions
https://www.nlc.org/covid-19-pandemic-response/american-rescue-plan-act/arpa-local-relief-frequently-asked-questions/

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4 beth November 23, 2021 at 10:30 AM

It’s a good point to raise.

The Board could have used the funds against the FY22 budget in order to reduce the amount of taxes needed to cover the Town’s expenses. Members and the assessor indicated that once the 2022 rate was set it couldn’t be lowered. (And it has since been set.)

However, they didn’t specify that as an ARPA restriction, so I’m not sure if the language here applies or if it can’t be lowered for other reasons. I do know that it could be decided as the appropriate use to help lower taxes in 2023 and 2024.

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5 Mike Fuce November 23, 2021 at 12:31 PM

My question would be to all voters in America, why do we even have this give away money. Do we understand that the dollars were printed out of thin air. Do we understand the dollar we had before it was printed is now worth 70 cents, does this help you towards your groceries or fuel to heat and drive? No, of course not. Hence the 30% inflation in America the past 6 months. Don’t fall for all the other garbage, we have plenty of money to do things responsibly, but we are drunk on spending inflationary dollars that eventually makes its way back to China so we buy their goods and they buy our devalued US Savings Bonds. Its pretty simple.

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6 DLD November 23, 2021 at 3:53 PM

Exactly. This is not free money. We are paying for it already and will continue to pay with tax hikes and the increased cost of goods and services. Give this money back to the people in the form of relief for the “higher than projected” property tax bills and show that you have some rudimentary understanding of economics.

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7 Dan November 24, 2021 at 10:20 AM

Mike: U.S. inflation was 6.2% over the past 12 months, not 30% over the past six months. It’s not good, but it’s not nearly what you seem to think it is.

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8 Matthew Brownell November 27, 2021 at 9:05 PM

Dan –

Neither gas nor food are included in the Federal Government’s U.S. “Core inflation Index” . Patently crazy, . . since both are unquestionably major factors in driving our economy

At the end of this October, gas prices averaged **49.6 %** higher than they were in October 2020. You can can thank the Biden Administration for derailing U. S. energy independence and killing the Keystone XL pipeline. You can also thank tax & spend State governments for creatively using gas pumps as their personal fly-under-the radar convenience for applying a variety of taxes and surcharges to each gallon of gas. ( not unlike Federal & State government using the billing systems phone, cable and Internet providers to apply a staggering array surcharges, “ recovery fees, and taxes 😡)

U.S. Inflation over the past 12 months escalated the fastest since 1990, according to government data released November 10h.

And while are those who rationalize this on the pandemic, I submit that the underlying reason is a U.S. Government that has pursued every avenue possible to print money and devalue its currency, while continuing to underwrite their spend with inflationary dollars.

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9 Frank Crowell November 29, 2021 at 6:52 PM

The Biden administration is the 2021 version of “Send in the Clowns” where their leadership trickles down into all facets of society and the results will be with us for years. This is what happens when we vote in someone who campaigned from their basement.

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10 roxanneperro2@gmail.com December 4, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Frank, is this town not a mirror of the chaos brought on by the current corrupt administration?? Seems just like it to me. Wasting taxpayer money on projects that are not in the best interest of the overburdened public, sky high taxes, scheming boards who care only about their own interests and developers
interests, developments that destroy, not enhance the town, devious late night actions and decisions that taxpayers aren’t notified of, until it is too late. Destroying and uprooting trees, and potentially destroying graves. Is this not a sacrilege. Boards admit you want to destroy Southborough, and turn it into a mini concrete metropolis Get rid of these board members now.

11 Kelly Roney November 29, 2021 at 10:48 PM

When something seems “patently crazy” it often is. Or it would be if it were true.

What I found in 10 minutes of Internet searches: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/coreinflation.asp appears to agree with you, but then it contains this quote: “The Federal Reserve prefers to use the PCE index rather than CPI since PCE tends to provide inflation trends that are less affected by short-term price changes.”

The PCE includes food and energy consumption (see the second bullet at the top of p. 5-5 of https://www.bea.gov/resources/methodologies/nipa-handbook/pdf/chapter-05.pdf).

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12 Frank Crowell December 1, 2021 at 11:40 AM

“The check is in the mail”
“The government is here to help you”

Soon, a new addition to this lis will be:
“The current inflation rate is only temporary”

13 southsider November 23, 2021 at 2:19 PM

all the delays… we’re following the example of the bozos in Boston who can’t figure out how to spend billions in COVID relief money before adjourning for 7 weeks!!!
Why not just unilaterally allocate some large part of the money to property tax relief. How great would that look to us all if right now if the SB simply gave us back half of the federal funds… or more!

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14 Interested November 23, 2021 at 2:46 PM

That would be great for property owners, but not all residents are property owners.

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15 southsider November 23, 2021 at 6:07 PM

but property taxes pay most of the town’s bills, don’t they? A renter’s landlord would get the same break and maybe not raise rents as much.

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16 Al Hamilton November 24, 2021 at 5:02 PM

The town in F21 had a total revenue of $60.5 million of which $48.5 million is provided by the property tax so roughly 80% of town services are funded by the property tax.

It is actually a little higher, about 10% of the 12 million that comes from other sources is actually the excess of income vs expenses from prior years which is also largely funded by property tax so I think the real number is closer to 82%

Anyway you cut it the property tax is providing the vast majority the funding for our government.

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17 Interested November 23, 2021 at 9:31 PM

Maybe, no guarantee.
But we all pay income tax, even teens and adult child who still live at home. The ARPA grant is federal monies, so if the residents were to receive a cut, it would only be fair that all residents receive one.

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18 SB Resident November 24, 2021 at 10:59 AM

+1 on the property tax relief. Why wait, no committee needed!

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19 Mike Fuce November 24, 2021 at 1:56 PM

Dan, sorry about that, I should’ve stated, “the things I spend money on”. I’ll have gone up 30%. Plus you cannot rely on the inflation numbers that come from our government. They haven’t taken real life into account for years.

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20 KEVIN November 24, 2021 at 2:26 PM

We should use the funds on sidewalks

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21 Inflation, Food, Fuel, Taxes, Poverty November 25, 2021 at 8:04 AM

Open your eyes. The ENTIRE amount should go toward tax relief. Pull up to the gas station, look at your food bill this week, the price of meat, look at the heating fuel bill. NO COMMITTEE NEEDED. Just pull up to the pump or try to feed and take care of family. What we need is LEADERSHIP and stop spending! All ages, young to middle age to elderly are being enormously impacted. Taxes should be lowered, not increased. Stop spending, full stop.
The following summarizes well what is happening (Control + Click to follow link):

‘I Wish I Didn’t Have To Give This Talk…’: John Kennedy Unleashes On Biden On Senate Floor – YouTube

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22 Townie November 30, 2021 at 12:39 PM

I can tell a lot of people haven’t done any research into what ARPA funds can actually be used for.

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23 Andrew Pfaff November 30, 2021 at 4:40 PM

The town will actually have pretty broad latitude when it comes to what the ARPA funds can be used for as we qualify for the revenue loss uses (see below). Basically anything in the general budget could qualify. Sidewalks or tax relief (ie paying for items in general budget to relieve the burden on tax levy) would be allowed.

Once a recipient has identified a reduction in revenue, are there any restrictions on how recipients use funds up to the amount of the reduction?:

The Interim Final Rule gives recipients broad latitude to use funds for the provision of government services to the extent of reduction in revenue. Government services can include, but are not limited to, maintenance of infrastructure or pay-go spending for building new infrastructure, including roads; modernization of cybersecurity, including hardware, software, and protection of critical infrastructure; health services; environmental remediation; school or educational services; and the provision of police, fire, and other public safety services. However, paying interest or principal on outstanding debt, replenishing rainy day or other reserve funds, or paying settlements or judgments would not be considered provision of a government service, since these uses of funds do not entail direct provision of services to citizens. This restriction on paying interest or principal on any outstanding debt instrument, includes, for example, short-term revenue or tax anticipation notes, or paying fees or issuance costs associated with the issuance of new debt. In addition, the overarching restrictions on all program funds (e.g., restriction on pension deposits, restriction on using funds for non-federal match where barred by regulation or statute) would apply.

https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/SLFRPFAQ.pdf

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