The following announcement came from Watertown Forward:
Watertown residents came together on January 22, 2023 for a Watertown Forward City Chat to learn more about how the city could spend the one-time $10.5M allotment in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. (ARPA).
Jared Knowles, founder of Civilytics Consulting a data science consulting firm here in Watertown, and frequent resource to communities around Massachusetts and the country for the allocation and use of ARPA funds, provided an overview of the funding guidelines and insight into what other communities have done with their funds. Knowles commented that communities have used this funding in a wide-range of applications, for instance, to address affordable housing and houselessness by constructing new housing or providing rental assistance, to give childcare workers bonuses for their efforts as essential workers, and to invest in the public water infrastructure by installing public water fountains or water bottle filling stations.
According to federal guidelines, there are three categories of funding that Watertown can consider: respond to the public health emergency of the pandemic and its impact, make investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, and provide premium pay for essential workers. Knowles observed that the guidelines don’t limit the classification of essential workers to city employees. Essential workers could also be people who worked in grocery stores, restaurants, or caretakers for children and older adults. He noted that a fourth funding category to provide city services that were reduced due to revenue decreases would not apply to Watertown because the city did not experience revenue decreases during the pandemic.
Knowles observed that ARPA funding is not the only source of funding available for certain projects. He provided an overview of other funding programs coming to the Commonwealth — including the Infrastructure and Jobs Act as an alternative source of funding to help fund water, sewer, and broadband services – while also noting that there is no additional funding for programs for affordable housing and housing supply. “ARPA is an opportunity for the community to implement community solutions and planning now will help us do it well, ” Knowles commented.
Watertown received these funds in May 2021. They must be allocated by December 31, 2024 and spent by December 31, 2026. Watertown’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Oversight (BF0) began actively planning for how to engage the public last spring. District D City Councilor Emily Izzo, a member of the BFO, provided an update on the process moving forward. She explained that the BFO is tasked with developing a spending plan for these funds and making a recommendation to the whole City Council for a vote.
The educational process begins on February 1 with a presentation by Hannah York of Clifton/Larson/Allen, and a presentation by City Manager George Proakis on how some other neighboring municipalities have used their funds. The BFO will then engage the public in determining how proposals from the City and the public will be evaluated. Councilor Izzo pointed to the city website on ARPA as an ongoing resource for materials, information about how proposals will be evaluated, and where to go to review submitted proposals. She anticipates the public will have two months to submit ideas and proposals, a process that could begin in February.
Participants expressed the importance of having public input on the proposal evaluation rubric and brainstormed projects that would benefit from this funding. Ideas included: rental assistance, affordable housing, support for childcare, eldercare and the caregivers, and micro- transit. To learn more about ARPA, the guidelines and proposed ideas, a recording of this City Chat can be found at www.watertownforward.org.