STONINGTON – While the city is expected to receive around $ 5 million in two payments under the US bailout, authorities are considering uses of the money that could include creating an affordable housing fund for a loan program and several capital improvements cut from last year’s budget due to the pandemic.
Members of the city’s finance board last week began preliminary discussions about a process to determine the best investment for designated federal bailout funds, the start of a process that officials say would address the similar to the typical city annual budget process.
First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said the goal of using the multi-step format is necessary to help keep the public informed and involve residents in the sharing of ideas and needs, as well as to maintain transparency.
“I think for us it’s better to lean towards transparency and give taxpayers a say in how we move forward,” Chesebrough said at the board meeting this week. last. âI mean, it’s not a $ 73 million budget, but it’s $ 5 million and I think it’s something we need to be clear about how we use it. “
The board is expected to use a fast-track but thorough process that will first include adjustments by the board before Chesebrough appears before the finance board on August 4 to get members’ comments and discussion during the meeting. their meeting the following week. Selectmen’s board members would then finalize a recommendation that would be formally presented to finance members on September 1 with an interim city hearing to take place on September 15.
Chesebrough then suggested sending the proposed expenses to a town hall. Selectwoman June Strunk agreed on the importance of transparency and broadening discussions to include the finance board, but cautioned against holding a full town meeting on bailout funds and noted that under the charter, the board is not required to seek residents’ approval for the use of this money.
âI can see the Finance Council involved, but it might not be better to go through a public hearing or a city meeting, especially as quickly as the process has to move forward,â Strunk said. “We’ll have to make sure it’s well publicized that this is the money we got and take a night out to explain to the public why these projects were chosen, not others.”
In a phone conversation, Chesebrough warned that any potential use of the money raised during the talks was preliminary and no final decisions had been made. In many cases, she said formal proposals were still being developed and would be considered in accordance with the city’s charter and agreed process before funding approval.
Chesebrough said the US Department of the Treasury still had not sent out final guidance, and thanked city staff and Stonington CFO James Sullivan, who was present for the council discussion, for their work coordinating with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, National League of Cities and others to begin determining the best ways for communities to use the funding.
Part of the money, $ 1.9 million, can be used to offset losses on items such as projects withdrawn from the 2020-2021 budget due to the pandemic. The use of the money is limited, Chesebrough warned, and she urged her elected colleagues to consider using the money for projects that need to be done, such as repairs to the city’s salt dome used by Public works and money, at least $ 73,000, for improvements. the cybersecurity necessary for the city to maintain insurance.
“Any infrastructure other than water, sewage, and broadband is not covered by this, with the caveat that the $ 1.9 million reduction in the budget due to COVID can be spent on it. general government, âshe said. “But there are also specific requirements there.”
One concept that sparked discussion was the possible use of funds to develop an Affordable Housing Assistance Fund, a specific fund that would be used to help facilitate a loan program designed to help homeowners maintain their properties and maintain their properties. retain the elderly and others who might otherwise be unable to afford to continue living in the community.
The program is part of an ongoing effort by the city to better meet housing needs in Stonington, Mystic and Pawcatuck, and would be designed to incentivize property maintenance while allowing the city to add real affordable housing and usable in town.
âIt’s a way, hopefully, to help seniors and other low-income people stay in the community, be able to stay in their homes and clean it,â Chesebrough said. âIt’s also a way to clean some homes in our community and help the city get closer to that 10% threshold for affordable housing.
The proposed spending plan was also aimed at meeting various non-government needs, including helping hardest hit industries such as tourism and hospitality, arts and entertainment, and resources to help with mental health assistance. .
Money provided in these specific areas would be intended to help businesses in the short and long term, and could include stipulated payments to the Mystic or Ocean Community Chambers of Commerce, as well as for utilities, including the Stonington Free Library, Mystic & Noank. Library and Westerly Library, all of which serve residents of the city. Funds are also expected to be allocated to the city’s ambulance groups, including Stonington Ambulance, Mystic River Ambulance and Westerly Ambulance Corps.
Chesebrough said that while the money provided to some agencies, including Westerly Ambulance, Westerly Library and Ocean Community Chamber, would directly benefit the city, the community is still awaiting indications as to whether money could be allocated to organizations based across state lines.
âThere is still a lot of talk to be had before anything is finalized,â said Chesebrough.