WILTON — The Wilton Select Board deliberated Tuesday on how to spend the $418,000 the town expects to receive in American Rescue Plan Act funding. So far, the town has received $209,000 of the anticipated total from ARPA.

Town Manager Rhonda Irish ran the board through the seven categories of eligibility and the specific uses under which the town can spend the ARPA funds, which are “public health,” “negative economic impacts,” “services to disproportionately impacted communities,” “premium pay,” “infrastructure, revenue replacement” and “administrative and other.”

Irish said she has been meeting frequently with the Maine Municipal Association and employees from other municipalities to get a better understanding of how Wilton is permitted to spend the funding. This is to ensure that the town doesn’t incorrectly spend the funds and subsequently “have to pay it back,” she said at the board’s Nov. 2 meeting.

During the meeting, Irish planned for the board to focus on eligible spending under public health.

ARPA funds under this category can be directed toward COVID-19 testing, vaccination, contact tracing and other preventative efforts; purchase of personal protective equipment; mental health and substance use services; as well as payroll costs for public health, safety and other public sector staff responding to COVID-19, etc.

Irish noted that the town has previously received grants related to COVID-19 spending, such as funding for “COVID protection, hand sanitizers, water bottle fillers at the recreation departments, and automatic hand-sanitizing stations.”

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A lot of discussion was had about spending in alternate categories, including payroll costs for employees that worked during the pandemic — which is an eligible option under both the public health and premium pay categories.

Irish told the board that public sector employees such as police officers and firefighters are not the only ones eligible for this funding — money can be directed toward “all other frontline workers,” such as grocery store workers. The payroll costs can be directed through payroll increases or bonuses.

During discussion, Chairperson David Leavitt said he had “concern” about payroll costs for front-line workers.

“People get paid for doing their job. I’m not necessarily thinking bonuses or whatever are appropriate,” Leavitt said. “We have better community use of the money that impacts more.”

Irish responded, “I want to point out that all of your employees showed up all the time. We never had employees saying ‘I can’t come to work because of COVID.'”

“They knew the risks, but came in anyway,” she added.

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Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri threw her support behind payroll costs for front-line workers.

“One of the assets the town has is the employees and (it’s important) to recognize that the public employees have done an extraordinary job,” Maiuri said.

Both Maiuri and Selectperson Tom Saviello also support the idea of directing money toward childcare funding, which falls under the disproportionately impacted communities category as funding for “healthy childhood environments.”

“With the work I’ve done in trying to understand (the reason for workforce shortages), women who end up being the childcare provider stay home and don’t end up going back to work because they have to take care of their child,” Saviello said.

Saviello and Maiuri also support funding for “aid to tourism, travel or hospitality,” which falls under the negative economic impacts category.

“(Tourism) is a big driver in (Wilton’s) economics, we are a big tourist destination,” Maiuri said.

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Irish noted that the federal and state governments are not requiring municipalities like Wilton to hold a town meeting to get approval on the spending.

Saviello suggested that giving the public the option to offer their input in public information sessions, hearings or on the town’s website might be beneficial.

“It might be worthwhile to have a public information session so it’s very public what we are thinking about or conversations (had about spending ARPA funds) so that we don’t get accused of (not spending money properly),” he said.

Irish said the board’s conversation on ARPA spending can continue at future meetings because Wilton does not have to spend the funds until 2026.

“Over and over (the MMA) says ‘do not rush to spend, really give this a lot of thought,'” Irish said.


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