New London approves use of $13 million in federal pandemic funds
New London — From the $900,000 aimed at support for affordable housing to the $950,000 earmarked for small business assistance, the City Council on Wednesday approved a far-reaching plan to spend more than $13 million in federal funds on a variety of programs and city initiatives.
The money is flowing to the city from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief package, aimed at addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. New London is expected to receive another $13.1 million in June of 2022, for a total of $26.2 million, and plans to spread out funding over the next four years. Funds must be used by Dec. 31, 2024.
What the council approved at Wednesday’s special meeting is a broad outline of potential funding allocations based on requests submitted to the city.
Finance Director David McBride said that while there is a budget created for all of the funds, what was approved on Wednesday was more of a guide. The bulk of the proposed expenditures are subject to final agreements or contracts and will get a second look by the City Council in the future.
The city administration had divided the money into five groupings. Approved by the council on Wednesday is the total amount for the first year of funding for each grouping, which are based on U.S. Treasury guidance: $5.543 million to services disproportionately impacted communities, $3.304 million to address negative economic impacts, $1.887 million for infrastructure, $1.664 million for public health and $197,042 for administration.
“All of these submittals were compiled in an attempt to determine what was in the best interests of the City of New London based on those categories,” McBride said.
McBride said requests for funding were still coming in as of this week.
Wednesday’s vote had come at the end of a series of public meetings to discuss needs of the community.
Some in the public remained skeptical of the proposed spending plan, including Maya Sheppard, a member of the youth activist group Hearing Youth Voices. She argued, among other things, against new funding for the New London Police Department.
“Many of us have literally been pleading with you since … 2020 to reallocate funds in our city’s budget to impact the urgent needs of New London residents,” she said. “Despite our consistent efforts, you haven’t been listening.”
Others, like Republican Town Committee Chair Kat Goulart, said she was frustrated the council had decided to call a special meeting for the final approval of the proposed budget instead of a regular meeting with more people in attendance.
Councilor Curtis Goodwin reiterated that funding directives were subject to change.
“I’m voting on this today because there is flexibility for the council to stay involved or change things, so nothing, unless it’s approved on passage, is guaranteed and we’re only discussing year one appropriations,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin, who is not seeking reelection, urged the future council to use its ability to provide oversight and remain flexible as different needs and funding requests arise.
“Be able to pivot and to get at root causes of why we are stagnant and why there is so much disparity in our city,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin added an amendment that directs funding for improvements at city parks, particularly to those parks located in low-income neighborhoods such as Fulton Park, Riverside Park, Bates Woods and Green Harbor Beach.
The Green Space Improvement city park program received a $245,000 funding boost when the council transferred money away from $495,000 proposed contribution to New England Science and Sailing. NESS had pitched a summer and after-school program in conjunction with New London Recreation Department and requested a total of $1.98 million over four years to facilitate the program. The NESS contract is still subject to approval.
Councilor James Burke, who proposed the change in funding, said the amount allocated to NESS, which is based in Stonington, received a lot of criticism in the community.
“I want every child in New London to have access to amazing programs like NESS offers but I think we need to look more equitably at how money is used and make sure that all of our nonprofits are funded in a way we are able provide the best services for the most number children in our community,” Burke said.
The public green space initiative, to be managed by the city’s Office of Development and Planning, will receive funding totaling $395,000.
The proposed budget contains funding for a host of other programs, nonprofit organizations and city departments. For instance, the public health category contains $516,423 for capital investments to public facilities and $892,642 for community policing initiatives.
To address negative impacts of the pandemics, the first year of funding contains $220,700 for food assistance programs, $750,000 for a downtown beautification program, $200,000 for a new business startup incentive program and $500,000 for a housing and equity fund.
The budget also contains $2.14 million for purchase of the B.P Learned building where the city, in conjunction with New London Public Schools, has established the Birth to Age 8 Community Resource Center at B.P. Learned.
The entire budget proposal is available on the city’s website.
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Council members will gather in the Council Chambers on Thursday at 6 p.m. to vote on the second list of proposed American Rescue Plan funded expenditures.