RTM Minority Leader, Cosgrove, Debate Branford ARPA Fund Vetting Process

On April 13, before the full voice vote of the City Representative Meeting (RTM) approving a $380,0000 appropriation as Branford’s first expense for its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding (see related article ), RTM Minority Leader Tracy Everson (D, District 5) stood to read a statement in which she said she would vote “no” on the issue, due to her questions about the process followed by the city administration regarding the determination of ARPA fund expenditure areas, and its determination that the public should have better access to the provision of initial information on the allocation of ARPA funds.

Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove’s response to Everson’s comments defended the current process which he said follows the same transparent public vetting process as the city’s annual budget process, as well as the following stipulations for spending funds of ARPA based on ARPA guidelines. Cosgrove also corrected an error Everson made in which she said Branford planned to spend $5.5 million of her ARPA funds on sidewalk connectivity; the actual figure is $550,000.

Everson and Cosgrove’s comments are transcribed here:

Rep. Everson: “This is the first American Rescue Plan Act funding allocation to be considered in Branford. The city has received $8.2 million under this plan and in June 2021 the year received $4.1 million from that allocation. We have before us tonight that first allocation. The head coach and the finance director have drawn up the list and the finance board has agreed. Which I m Opposite is the lack of an open and transparent process to determine how these funds should be spent. The finances. Other communities have been much more open about how these multi-million dollar decisions are made , and by whom. There have been public meetings, public hearings, inquiries or workshops. Middletown has an ARPA task force, Bethel has set aside $2 million for 70 local businesses to apply for up to $5,000 in relief funding each; Norwalk has established a Community Recovery Fund grant process with $2 million earmarked for nonprofit organizations. Westport is putt investing money in affordable housing. The common element of these communities is to focus on people and businesses who are in distress and struggling to hold on as we emerge from the pandemic. Other allocations have been approved by the Finance Council but have yet to be reviewed by the RTM. Still to come, Branford receives $100,000 from ARPA for basic needs through the Branford Counseling Center, often the first line of local help our residents rely on. The fire department will have a new ambulance, which will directly benefit our residents. It’s awesome. But other ARPA funds proposed and approved by the Finance Council include $5.5 million for sidewalks. Maybe you can tell that a lot more people were walking and walking, we’ve certainly known for years that there have been calls for more sidewalks around town. It might not leave much. Other communities share ARPA funds with food banks, community organizations, for foreclosure assistance; a much more direct human benefit in what continues to be a difficult time for many. This federal funding is specifically designed to be used to help those most affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. The administration said that over time, Branford intends to consider sharing more of these resources and that additional allocations would come to the Finance Council and the RTM. I urge residents and organizations to make their voices heard now, or this unique funding opportunity may be lost. I hope that more careful consideration will be made with future allocations of ARAP funding. I will be voting no on this article.”

First Selectman Cosgrove: “Just for a few points of clarification. First of all, I certainly object to this being called a lack of transparency. One of the things, when we first found out that we were getting money through the ARPA fund, did we say we would follow the same process that we follow for our budget. I think our budget is a very transparent process. There are town hall meetings, there are posted agendas, it goes to the Finance Council, then it comes to this body where it gives the opportunity to be discussed in committee to find out more [which] at each meeting, the public has the opportunity to comment on what is before them; what is being considered; and then it is, as you know, to vote in plenary, by the RTM, the Representative Communal Assembly, the representatives of the community. So I think it’s a transparent process. To be clear, yes. we received money, I believe it was in June of last year. However, it is important to note that the final rule on how these dollars can be spent was not released until January 7 of this year. We wanted to make sure that we were very careful in how we allocated those dollars and used them. Yes; other communities have — and again, I sit on various boards and commissions and often this topic comes up. how the dollars are used – and again, each community follows a different process What we have decided here at Branford is to follow a process that the appropriation agencies as well as the community are used to. And that is why we chose to follow the process that follows the Board of Finance, RTM process. [Also] in terms of how the dollars will be used and I think you may have misspoken, you said five and a half million – it was not five and a half million for sidewalks, for clarification. It was $550,000 for a number of citywide sidewalk projects to improve connectivity throughout the city. That said, you talked about business as well as human needs. Back when we first discovered this [approximately] a year ago, the city of Branford — and I’ve always said — that we would use those dollars to meet human needs; needs within our community to help vulnerable populations. The $100,000 for basic needs is in addition to what the Town of Branford already contributes through the General Fund, namely $58,000 in the current budget. And one thing that I think is important to note: we’ve been clear that we don’t want to create a cliff. Yes, I saw other communities; they inject money into these other areas and they will meet certain needs. But there’s no plan to back that up, beyond ARPA dollars. We are creating a downward path through basic needs…giving a $100,000 injection, if this body approves, to inject additional dollars into meeting basic needs – some of those needs that we answer are exactly what Rep Everson mentioned [and] many municipalities do not have the Branford Counseling Center like we have here in Branford. Many municipalities don’t already support a number of not-for-profit service providers like Branford does, through our Branford counseling center, through our seniors center, through our animal shelter – these are just a few city ​​departments. But as you know, there are several service providers in this community who benefit from the support provided by the municipality, either through in-kind services or the buildings they occupy to carry out their mission. And we provide the building and often cover a lot of the expenses associated with the service provider as well. So I think Branford is doing a terrific job of meeting basic needs. And we see this as an opportunity to increase what we can do. Basic needs — and this was raised in committee, it’s a very broad term…”we have to meet basic needs”. But first you have to put [forth] what do you want to address. What is the local government’s responsibility to address? I think the federal government has a responsibility. I certainly think our state government has a responsibility to meet many needs. And what is our responsibility? And we have to define that responsibility and that need, and we’re going to meet it. And that’s where we are. This is the first, as we said, what is before you today and what preceded you, and what will be before you next month, when you pass the budget, were just elements who were really associated with municipal services. Because we wanted to go through this process, the first request to use ARPA dollars that was identified by our department heads, in terms of the need there, which falls under [ARPA]that can be resolved using those dollars, and then those presentations have to be made through a very public process, the Finance Council and RTM.”

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