WILTON — The Wilton Select Board brainstormed Tuesday, Nov. 16, 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 — which Town Manager Rhonda Irish corrected after stating during a previous meeting the town had received $220,000 (for a total $440,000).

At the meeting, Irish ran the board through the seven categories of eligibility and the specific uses under which the town can spend the ARPA funds. They 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 (MMA) 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.”

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

Irish told the board that public-sector employees such as town-office employees, 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 per-hour rate increases or bonuses.

During discussion, Chairperson David Leavitt said he had “struggles” with premium pay and 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 may have better community use of the money that impacts more.”

Irish responded, “I do hear what you’re saying on that. I did want to point out that all of your employees always showed up to work all the time. We never had employees that said I can’t come to work because of COVID.”

“They knew what the risks were … and they still came to work,” she added.

Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri threw her support behind payroll costs for front-line workers and is “in favor of putting that (option) on the table for discussion.”

“One of the most valuable assets the town has is the employees,” Maiuri said. “(It’s important) to recognize that the public employees have done an extraordinary job during COVID-19 and continue to do so.”

Saviello supported purchasing more personal protective equipment to “make sure we have plenty of supplies on hand.”

“If we go into this in the future, we want to make sure we don’t go shorthanded,” he said. “And make sure they don’t have a shelf life. I would hate to buy it and find out three years from now if we need to use it again, it’s no good.”

Maiuri and Saviello both support the idea of funding childcare services, which falls under the disproportionately impacted communities category as funding for “healthy childhood environments.”

“With the little bit I’ve done in trying to understand why we don’t have the workforce that we had, part of it is because women — unfortunately they end up being the childcare provider —  stay home and don’t go back to work because someone has 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.

Saviello said he wanted to help support local restaurants because “they are critical if we’re going to go forward to have them (in Wilton) still with us.”

“We know that our restaurants ended up in a situation where it was takeout only. I don’t know how they are. I don’t know what happened to Wilson Lake Inn, to those (businesses) when they didn’t have people coming,” Saviello said.

Other suggestions among the board for spending ARPA funds include:

• Purchasing technology to do site mapping in the town of Wilton, which Saviello said would be beneficial to have “as the town grows.”

• Aid to nonprofits, depending on how Franklin County allocates their funds, Maiuri said.

• Community violence interventions.

• Funding for infrastructure updates, development such as drinking water and the local parks, which Irish suggested might have seen more use, wear and tear during the pandemic.

• Broadband work.

• Funding for water infrastructure and water-quality issues, particularly in Wilson Lake.

• Funding for affordable housing.

Irish noted that the federal and state governments are not requiring municipalities like Wilton (without a municipal charter) 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.

“As boards get ready to disperse the money, it might be worthwhile to have a public information session so it’s very public about what we are thinking about or as we continue the conversations (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 (MMA) says ‘do not rush to spend, really give this a lot of thought,'” Irish said.

Eligible uses under the seven expenditure categories include, but are not limited to:

Public health: funding for COVID-19 testing, vaccination, contact tracing and other preventative efforts; purchase of personal protective equipment; mental health services, substance use services, etc.

Negative economic impacts: food programs; rent, mortgage, and utility aid; internet access programs; aid to tourism, travel or hospitality; aid to other impacted industries, etc.

Services to disproportionately impacted communities: education assistance for early learning; aid to high-poverty districts and social, emotional & mental health services; fostering “healthy childhood environments” through funding for child care services, services to foster youth or families involved in child welfare system; “housing support” through affordable housing and services for unhoused persons; community violence interventions.

Premium pay: grants to public sector employees or other employers.

Infrastructure: developing “clean water” through centralized wastewater treatment, sewer infrastructure and energy and water conservation; developing “drinking water”; and developing broadband access.

Revenue replacement: “provision of government services,” which would fund the expenses or revenue the town lost due to the pandemic.

Administrative and other: administrative expenses; evaluation and data analysis; transfers to other units of government.

The full list of eligible uses under the expenditure categories can be found on the Maine Municipal Association’s American Rescue Plan Updates webpage at https://memun.org/ARPA-Resources/ARPA-Resources-Eligible-Uses-by-Expenditure-Category

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