Officials in nine of the 15 Barnstable County towns want to see the entire $41.37 million the county will get in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds distributed directly to their communities, according to county staff who recently met with them. The other six towns want some money to flow to their communities but also support funding regional projects.
The county commissioners took an initial step toward making some funds available at their Feb. 23 meeting. Chair Sheila Lyons of Wellfleet and member Ron Bergstrom of Chatham voted to free up $10 million to be allocated to the towns.
Under their proposed ordinance, the Assembly of Delegates will decide how the money is apportioned. It could be based solely on population, which would mean larger towns would get the biggest amounts; or it could include a fixed base amount for all towns combined with population-based supplements.
The Assembly was expected to discuss the proposed ordinance on March 2 and set a date for a formal hearing on it. Initially, the Assembly will consider whether to approve the ordinance as proposed. If it does, the panel will have 31 days from the ordinance’s approval to decide on the details of how amounts would be apportioned.
Lyons said the decision was best left to the Assembly because its membership represents all 15 towns. As she put it, “They are the people.”
At the commissioners’ meeting, Bergstrom said he wasn’t in favor of basing the allotments on population. “It costs as much to hire a police chief in Wellfleet as it does in Falmouth,” Bergstrom said. “There are fixed costs small towns are dealing with that aren’t related to their population.”
Commissioner Mark Forest recused himself from the decision because he chairs the Yarmouth Select Board. The town, he said, has a great interest in acquiring ARPA funds, which would create a conflict of interest for him.
The Assembly making a decision on dividing the $10 million won’t mean that communities will be sent checks right away. They must submit applications via a portal that county officials will oversee. The portal will open sometime in March.
“As long as it’s within the parameters of the ARPA grant, they go in and take their money,” Lyons said. Their applications would supply the information the county must provide to state and federal officials regarding the money’s use. Funds can be used for a wide array of purposes: infrastructure, affordable housing, public health, offsetting negative effects of Covid, premium pay for essential workers, and revenue replacement for the towns.
The communities don’t have to spend their allotments all at once, but some do have “shovel ready” projects for which they may want to seek funding, Lyons said.
The deadline for the county to allocate the ARPA funds isn’t until the end of 2024. The money doesn’t have to be fully spent until 2026.
To date, the county has received $20.68 million. The second half will arrive in June.
Annual town meetings are fast approaching, Lyons said. Establishing the amounts each town can expect will help with their financial decision making.
Under the ordinance process, the Assembly of Delegates may vote not to adopt the proposal sent by the commissioners. Members could also decide to amend it. They could even vote to carve out more than $10 million for the individual communities. Whatever is approved will go back to the county commission. That panel can veto the Assembly’s acts, but the Assembly can override a veto with a two-thirds vote.
An advisory council will be appointed to review regional proposals. That panel will not be weighing in on individual town projects.
The county administration had been working since December on ways to get public input on the use of the $41.37 million. About 6,000 residents responded to a survey, according to Assistant County Administrator Vaira Harik.
While the median age in Barnstable County is 54 years, the median age of respondents was 66. Participation was low in the four Outer Cape towns.
The 6,000 respondents were asked to rank the ARPA qualifying categories for regional funding. They placed infrastructure at the top, followed by affordable housing, public health, and early education and child care.
The top priority cited by the four Outer Cape towns, however, was affordable housing, with infrastructure second.