Torrington City Council approves strategic plan for bailout funds

TORRINGTON — A strategic plan for funding the $10.074 million U.S. Bailout Act was recently approved by City Council, but each individual line item will still require a future vote.

ARPA funding has been earmarked for a range of incentives focused on public health, revenue loss, water and sewer improvements, and addressing the negative effects of the pandemic.

Mayor Elinor Carbone asked council to approve a strategic plan to govern the distribution of funding, but explained that council can still vote on all projects and related expenses later.

“Your vote to approve this plan is to give us, as staff, direction on how we want to spend this money,” the mayor said. “In general terms, what we are looking for is board approval, in concept, that these are the general funding priorities

“These will be further investigated, based on bids for any infrastructure work, such as HVAC systems, or grant schemes established using a vetting process. Grant applications will come back to the board for approval.

“So there’s nothing in this plan that says, ‘Here we go, let’s spend the money.’ This is the orientation step to spend it,” Carbone said.

Uses of federal money, developed by a committee that was set up in late 2020 — when municipalities first learned they would be compensated for the impact of the pandemic — include HVAC improvements Police Department and Armory, as well as Lighting and ADA Compliance; technological improvements at City Hall, security cameras for several downtown locations; funds for the maintenance of the buildings of the center for the elderly; mini-grants for community organizations; a lead reduction program administered by the local health district; assistance grants for nonprofits and small businesses; a workforce navigator position; a study of social care providers; remediation of industrial wastelands; sewer improvements; new radios for the police; and a feasibility study of the public security complex.

Final allocations were decided with public input. Carbon and Economic Development Director Rista Malanca posted an online poll in February, asking residents for their input.

“Not much has changed since we developed this list (to be used for ARPA funding),” Malanca said.

Municipalities have until Dec. 31, 2024 to allocate their ARPA funding and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend it, according to Malanca.

In the poll, residents were asked if they approved of giving city employees a $1,000 stipend because they were considered essential workers during the pandemic. According to Malanca, this proposal did not make the final cut.

“About 55% of people said no, they wouldn’t support that,” she said. “It would have cost around $450,000.”

Councilman Paul Cavagnero questioned money for brownfield remediation on Franklin Street, which is the site of a new apartment building being built by Pennrose.

“There was $780,000 for this cleanup (already),” he said.

Malanca explained that PCBs were found in the ground and the costs of cleaning up the contaminated property increased. It’s the city’s responsibility to clean it up, because Pennrose leases the property for 99 years.

“All hazardous materials have been removed, and now DEEP requires 18 inches of topsoil,” she said. “We can’t do this until Pennrose’s construction is complete.”

Cavagnero said that since Pennrose is not a nonprofit, the company would have to pay its own costs.

“We shouldn’t pay a dime for their overruns,” he said.

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