BARNSTABLE — Nine of 15 towns on Cape Cod have not yet applied for their share of the $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money set aside by the county for their use.
A look at the towns that received their share quickly shows their advantage: they had more staff to pull together their applications. Some members of the county Assembly of Delegates, which has one representative from each town, have proposed tweaking restrictions to help smaller towns more easily claim their share.
About $41.3 million in ARPA funds have come to Barnstable County. After several months of debate, it was decided that the money would be distributed in a process involving the two branches of county government.
Following a second debate, the county commissioners and the Assembly agreed to distribute $10 million directly to the 15 towns. The distribution formula starts with a base amount and adds a sum related to the town’s population.
To get the money, each town must submit an application. As long as it meets federal requirements and a couple of county restrictions, the application is approved.
Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich have already completed the process. Funding for Yarmouth and for a second project in Bourne was expected to be approved by the county commissioners on Sept. 21, according to ARPA manager Kara Hughes. Those six towns account for two-thirds of the $10 million total.
Except for Bourne, the towns that received the money are using it for water and sewer projects. Bourne is using the lion’s share of its allotment to buy two new ambulances. Bourne will use the remaining $100,000 on broadband infrastructure for the public schools.
Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, and Dennis have not yet submitted their applications.
Randi Potash, the Assembly delegate from Chatham, and Dennis delegate John Ohman are lobbying to expand the allowed uses of funds to include replacement of lost revenue for government services. Potash says that would help smaller towns, which may not have the capacity to manage large projects, to claim their share of the pot.
“Instead of standing by any further, given that the funding has been in the county’s account for 15 months, we wanted to think outside the box and loosen it up,” Potash said at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Assembly’s standing committee on finance. Noting that the original ordinance had focused on projects that are regional, the Chatham delegate said not all of them need to be. She noted Bourne’s use of the money for ambulances. “That may not help us here in Chatham, and whatever Chatham decides may not help somebody in Bourne, but when you fortify each town, it’s good for the Cape,” Potash said.
According to Potash, expanding the approved uses to include government services would allow towns to enhance the lives of residents. The final federal rule on allowed uses included revenue replacement, and Norfolk County is allowing its towns to apply for that use, Potash said.
Barnstable County Administrator Beth Albert opposed the change, saying it could cause a problem. “To change the process after more than half the funds have already been awarded seems unfair to the six towns that have already received the funds,” Albert said at the Sept. 12 meeting.
Albert added that holding a hearing to change the original ordinance could cause more delays in getting the money to towns.
Potash said the added category would help smaller towns. “And indeed, we wouldn’t even have a regional government if it wasn’t for the needs of the small towns,” she said. The tweak would also be easy, she added, like flipping a switch.
County Commission Chair Sheila Lyons spoke against the proposed change, arguing that Hughes and Assistant County Administrator Vaira Harik are already working closely with all the towns on their applications.
Ohman, who chairs the standing committee on finance, said the smaller towns have fallen behind. “The fact remains that nine towns have not applied yet,” he said. “I think this just loosens it up enough to get the towns the money.”
Hughes told the standing committee that many of the nine towns are close to submitting applications. Harwich, she said, was poised to submit a wastewater project for the Great Sand Lakes area. County staff were also working closely with Wellfleet and have discussed how the town’s allotment could be used on wastewater issues related to Maurice’s Campground.
Hughes said staff support has been offered to Truro, where a health-related project is under consideration. Provincetown, she said, is “planning to put together something around wastewater and stormwater.”
Help has also been offered to Eastham and Orleans, Hughes said.
Adding the new category wouldn’t slow down distribution, Ohman said, since it wouldn’t interrupt the application process. “It just helps them along, and it gives them more wiggle room to find projects that will be of use to them,” he said.
Ohman is hopeful that Assembly delegates from all the towns will support the tweak whether they have already submitted their applications or not. “I can’t imagine any of the six bigger towns saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I got mine but you can’t get yours,’ ” he said.
A public hearing on the question was scheduled for the Sept. 21 Assembly of Delegates meeting. The expanded provision would apply to towns whose allotments were less than $650,000. All nine towns that have not yet applied are in that category.
Eastham Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe said she would welcome the proposed change. “That would be extremely helpful,” Beebe said in an email.