American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding for Groton
The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021. As part of this act, federal recovery funds were made available to state, local and Tribal governments to aid in their effort to mitigate the fiscal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The US Treasury has made these funds available specifically to meet the following needs:
- Replacing Lost Public Sector Revenue – Broadly allows spending on general government services
- Public Health & Economic Impacts – Supporting continued Covid-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, identifying and addressing economic harm to workers, households and small businesses
- Premium Pay – Provides premium pay options for lower-income and essential workers who remained on the “front lines” during the Covid-19 public health emergency.
- Water, Sewer & Broadband Infrastructure – Provides funding for necessary investment in clean drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. Allows local governments to meet the challenges of providing universally affordable and reliable broadband access to residents and businesses.
You can learn more about ARPA by clicking on the links below:
- Text – H.R.1319 – 117th Congress (2021-2022) _ American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 _ Congress.gov _ Library of Congress files
The US Treasury’s Final Rule (which took effect on April 1, 2022) permits local governments to adopt a standard allowance for revenue loss of $10 million (or up to their full award if they were allocated less than $10 million). This allows these smaller communities to utilize ARPA funding more broadly for “provision of governmental services” and to take advantage of streamlined compliance and reporting requirements. The Town of Groton has been allocated $3,385,120 of ARPA funds that will be used to meet those needs outlined in the categories above including provision of general governmental services.
Groton’s ARPA Process
In the spring of 2021, Groton received notice of the ARPA funding to be made available, and immediately began working to identify critical needs within the town that would be eligible for these funds. The Town Manager worked closely with the Town Finance Team, GDRSD representatives and Town Department Heads to compile project ideas for consideration and to develop a preliminary budget. On June 21, 2021, Town Manager, Mark Haddad, presented to the Select Board and Finance Committee (during an open public session) an overview of the American Rescue Plan Act as well as his recommended project budgets. Select Board Meeting Minutes for 6/21/21 can be found here.
The original budget as presented in June of 2021 has evolved as project needs have been clarified, estimates updated and additional funding sources identified. As of this writing (June 2022), the current version of the ARPA Project Budget is as follows:
The negative economic impacts of COVID-19 included significant stressors to students and their families. The prolonged closure of schools forced remote learning environments that simply were not structured to meet individual educational needs. This fact coupled with disparate technological access and a lack of adults available throughout the day to assist with online coursework practically guaranteed poor outcomes for many of Groton’s students. GDRSD has identified significant emotional and educational difficulties that occurred during the time of remote learning. The number of IEPS (Individual Education Plans) rose from 336 in FY20 to 459 in FY21 when the district returned to in-person learning. Additionally, an increase in student homelessness was reported as well as a sharp decline in Math MCAS results.
In an effort to mitigate this clear evidence of learning loss, GDRSD utilized ARPA and ESSER funding to hire three (3) Reading Specialists, and one (1) Math Interventionist at the elementary level. An additional Integrated Preschool Teacher and a Preschool Paraprofessional were also hired to support the needs of the youngest learners. Crucially, a DEI Coordinator was also brought on board to create a more equitable, inclusive and welcoming environment, as well as to build a more just and empathetic community and culture.
The School District faced enormous hurdles when undertaking to re-open for in-person learning. Prevention of Covid-19 in a congregate setting (such as a classroom) required renovations to buildings to support social distancing, purchase of air purifiers for classrooms, upgrade of wiring at Florence Roche (required for the air purifiers), trailer rental to store furniture and tent rental and picnic tables to promote outdoor classroom space. Additional teaching staff for 3rd grade, preschool and Art Sections were necessary to ensure manageable and socially-distanced class sizes. Finally, ZOOM subscriptions while significantly reduced from last year, remain an important element of the Covid mitigation process as some medically fragile students continue to learn remotely.
The Groton Police Department houses the 911 Dispatch Center for both the towns of Dunstable and Groton. The communication towers currently in use are nearing the end of their life and require an upgrade to ensure interoperability between dispatchers and units on the street. The planned upgrade will provide a true regional benefit as it will enhance communication between Dispatch and the Towns of both Groton and Dunstable while also improving radio coverage in the Town of Pepperell. Additionally, a study of the coverage for the Town of Groton revealed significant coverage gaps for communications in the Northern part of Groton, including the immediate area around the high school. It was determined that adding an additional tower at the high school would be the most effective manner to close this coverage gap. The availability of ARPA funds for this purpose is critical as neither municipality has the financial resources to invest in a project of this scale at this time. The budgeted cost for the entire project is $1,079,449, with $429,449 to be funded through an FY22 State 911 Development Grant award, and the remaining $650,000 to be funded through ARPA. The upgrade includes plans to construct three (3) 120-foot towers to replace two (2) existing structures, and provide a third at new structure at the high school.
Exciting residential developments underway in Groton as well as future growth in the business district will seriously stress the town’s existing sewer capacity (flow limits). The pump station at Nod Rd was designed 35 years ago to handle 120,000 gallons of sewage per day, which is insufficient for current authorized flows (275,000 gpd) even before consideration of the new planned developments. Replacing that pump station with one that can handle greater flow volume, adding a larger wet well and potentially a force main in the street, will add resiliency to the system and respond to an identified need to achieve adequate minimum levels of service for ratepayers. The ARPA funds budgeted would be spent on design, permitting and bidding costs necessary to ensure eligibility of this project for a “shovel-ready” MassWorks grant. The estimate construction cost of approximately $4 million would be cost prohibitive without access to these generous external funding sources. This project provides a unique opportunity for the Town to partner with private developers in an effort to encourage economic development.
This planned upgrade will greatly improve the Dispatch Officers’ working environment and address the undersized communications center. Upgrading and reconfiguration of the existing raised floor and dispatch consoles (including electrical systems and radio cabling) will bring the center into ADA compliance while streamlining dispatch functions for efficiency. Ancillary equipment will be relocated and a former radio room prepped for a future breakroom/kitchen to provide Dispatch Officers a place to prepare meals and take needed breaks. Technology updates included in the project scope will increase the ability of Police, Fire & EMS personnel to coordinate and deploy resources for the benefit of both member towns.
The Recovery Act provides funding for local governments to restore staff levels to pre-pandemic levels. The Department of Public Works been operating in a chronically short-handed fashion. Given the critical nature of the work performed by this department, this was an unsustainable situation for the town. The many vital roles performed by the DPW include maintaining roads, managing the transfer station, maintaining public buildings, landscaping, and snow/ice operations seasonally. ARPA funding provided both wages and benefits for a full-time (partial year) DPW employee in FY22 that will ensure that residents will continue to enjoy the same level of service from the DPW that they have come to expect over the years. This position will be funded out of the town’s regular operational budget starting in FY23.
During the height of the pandemic, the Town of Groton was understandably concerned about its short-term financial position, especially with regard to projected revenue shortfalls. In an effort to mitigate this, the Town worked with its labor unions and re-negotiated contracts to eliminate COLA’s for FY22. The savings realized eased the budgetary burden, while also ensuring ongoing services for residents, but left the Town in an unfortunate position in terms of its ability to retain employees as the health crisis eased, and revenue estimates recovered. The Town used ARPA funds to restore a modest COLA to employees (2% in FY22 and 1.5% projected for FY23). The availability of ARPA funds has proven crucial to the Town’s goal of retaining key employees and thereby ensuring continuity and stability of skilled services to taxpayers.
Historically, day to day Fire Department operations have been heavily subsidized by receipts received from ambulance billing. The pandemic significantly suppressed these receipts, as patients treated during emergency medical calls declined a trip to the hospital. As an alternative to ambulance receipts, ARPA funds will be utilized in FY23 to cover general Fire Department payroll, vehicle maintenance, and training expenses that would have otherwise placed a significant burden on the Town budget.
With substantial residential development planned for Groton (most particularly the redevelopment of the previous Deluxe property), it is no longer possible to delay making some important improvements to the Town’s water infrastructure. Once such necessary improvement is the Taylor Street water main. This main is one of the oldest pipes serving our water ratepayers; it is made of asbestos cement and is a constant source of leaks. ARPA funding will allow the Town to take action to address this ongoing issue; ensuring a higher quality of service to ratepayers.
Interface is a mental health referral service offered through William James College. This service had regretfully been cut from the Town’s budget (pre-pandemic) in an effort to make room for more pressing needs. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis has led to new and increased mental health stressors for families, seniors, teachers and students, first responders, and almost any other group you could name. Instances of isolation, depression, politics, anxiety and grief have grown faster than they can be treated, and impacted every level of society. The Interface Service provides a link between those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues and clinicians who are trained to help. The receipt of ARPA funding has provided Groton with a way to reinstate this highly utilized service during a time when it can make an enormous difference in the lives of so many.
Capital Strategic Solutions is a local consulting firm with a record of outstanding municipal support and service. Due to the complicated deliverables involved with successfully managing Federal Grants, the Town of Groton contracted with CSS to receive financial, procurement and administrative support services associated with ARPA and other Covid-19 funding sources as needed. Funds used in violation of the final rule are subject to remediation and recoupment for the US Treasury. CSS has been instrumental in identifying and developing eligible projects, compliance reporting, and audit preparation so as to avoid any violations that would result in a financial loss to the Town. The consultant will also help maximize the Town’s drawdown of state and federal funding streams available through this pandemic recovery program.