Residents offer ideas on how to spend remaining $2.1 million in ARPA money
Norwich― Residents offered ideas Thursday on City Manager John Salomone’s plan to spend the final $2.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan grant money which include cleaning up the former YMCA site and adding more youth facilities.
The City Council hosted the public forum at the Rose City Senior Center Thursday in advance of a planned vote Feb. 21 vote on the final $2.1 million. The city has received a two-year total of $28.8 million in federal COVID-19 recovery money.
Salomone made two changes to a preliminary presentation he gave the council Jan. 17, proposing $400,000 to speed up the cleanup of the blighted former YMCA property on Main Street where Mattern Construction of Baltic plans to move.
The city received a $2 million state Department of Economic and Community Development grant to clean the property. But work had been delayed as Norwich awaits approval for $400,000 in brownfields cleanup grants to finish the work. Salomone said the city cannot wait any longer.
We need to get going on that project,” Salomone said. “The $2 million is waiting out there and we only have two years to get it done, so every month we wait now is a month less to perform what we have to do.”
He told the council and about 20 residents in attendance that the ARPA money might not be necessary if the brownfields money comes through in time. To fund the YMCA project, Salomone cut funding to replace a 2001 firetruck from $781,719 to $381,719.
Salomone said $1.1 million in ARPA money allocated as loans could be used for the firetruck as the businesses who receive loans pay it back.
Residents Brian Kobylarz and Shiela Hayes supported the YMCA cleanup calling the Main Street site a gateway to the city. They said the cleanup will help the conversion of the former Elks Club into a boutique hotel across the street.
Resident Beryl Fishbone wanted to see “not just the same projects” getting more money, but new projects, especially to benefit youths. She regretted a planned splash pad will not go forward and said the city should build handicapped accessible playgrounds, similar to those in other towns.
“This is gift money,” Fishbone said. “Let’s use it as a gift and help make our city better, prettier and more interesting for people to settle here.”
Kyle Bradford, a volunteer at the city Recreation Department, said he has lived in Norwich for five years and finds the city “really lacking” in facilities for youth. He said the youth cheerleading squads, which recently won first place in national competitions, have few places to practice. He said schools are not available, and the city recreation center is small.
Resident H. Tucker Braddock said Norwich desperately needs a public bathroom downtown. He said it’s not fair to downtown businesses to be asked to allow event goers to use their bathrooms.
Braddock suggested the Norwich Community Development Corp. or a subcommittee search for an appropriate vacant storefront that could be leased for public bathrooms, with the Public Works Department providing regular maintenance.
“If we’re talking economic development,” Braddock said, “this is one of the economic development things we can do for our city.”