Town officials say they could direct $500,000-plus of an approximately $6 million windfall in federal funds for New Canaan to municipal employees who have worked long hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board of Finance “has been talking about a premium pay element for some employees after COVID and that will probably be for a half-million dollars or more,” according to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan.
“One of the purposes of these funds are to give premium pay to employees who, because of COVID, may have worked extra hard,” Moynihan said during the Oct. 5 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.
“That is something that has been discussed and I think the Board of Finance will talk about that,” Moynihan said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
The comments came during a general discussion of how the town should spend the first tranche of about $6 million granted to New Canaan through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Town officials disclosed the windfall mid-summer, and since then elected and appointed bodies including the selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council have weighed in on how to spend the money, including outlining a process for such decisions. The town has until 2024 to spend the money. Moynihan has called for special appropriations to be made starting next month.
The selectmen have developed a working document, a table, for the discussions. That document has two tabs—the first one marked “Main List,” and the second marked “Other Requests.”
In communications to town officials and at public hearings, human services agencies and nonprofit organizations—including those advocating for public safety, youth, open space and land conservation initiatives—have made cases to the town about their needs.
A $100,000 allocation for a private group seeking to install a seasonal ice rink at Waveny also ended up on the “Main List” tab of the worksheet.
Here’s an updated version of that “Main List” that the public officials have referred to during their discussions:
Copy of Proposed Allocation of American Rescue Plan Act Funds
|New Canaan Playhouse||Code compliance, refurbishment||$750,000|
|Ice RInk||Project costs||$100,000|
|Flexi-Pave||Trail at Mead Pond||$125,000|
|Waveny Park Conservancy||Matching funds for projects||$250,000|
|Parking Fund*||Replenishment of lost revenue||$150,000|
|YMCA||Expand infant daycare||$250,000|
|Waveny LifeCare Network||Expand Telehealth services||$250,000|
|NC Community Foundation||Allocations to nonprofits||$1 million|
|Open Space Fund||Expand open space protection||$500,000|
|Silver Hill Hospital||Emergency behavioral healthcare||$250,000|
And here’s a list of organizations that have requested funds that are listed in the “Other Requests” tab:
ARPA Allocation Requests
|New Canaan Police Department||Car theft education/invstigation||$100,000|
|Vine Cottage||exterior painting||$32,000|
|Irwin House||interior refurbishment||$200,000|
|Powerhouse Theatre||complete renovation||$1 million|
|Live New Canaan||continue project support||$60,000|
|Waveny Park outdoor bathrooms||renovate for seasonal use (theatre and ice rink)||$250,000|
|New Canaan Chamber of Commerce||redo website and Otocast app||$15,000|
|Conservation Commission||public spaces and sustainability||unknown|
|New Canaan CARES||youth programs||unknown|
|New Canaan Dance Academy||outdoor stage||unknown|
|New Canaan Museum & Historical Society||(none listed)||unknown|
|Teen Talk Counselor at NCHS||(none listed)||unknown|
|Voices Center of Resilence||(none listed)||unknown|
|VFW Post 653||financial support||$15,000|
|Tree removal and improvement||(none listed)||$50,000|
|Premium pay||(none listed)||$500,000|
|New Canaan Library||(none listed)||unknown|
|Town of New Canaan marketing/staff person||(none listed)||unknown|
Selectman Nick Williams has said the town should prioritize restoration to the General Fund of revenues lost during the pandemic.
The main criteria set out in the federal Act for spending is that it be related to public health expenditures, such as enhancing COVID responses, mitigating efforts and medical expenses, town CFO Lunda Asmani has said. Other areas include addressing negative economic impacts due to COVID and replacing revenues that were lost due to the pandemic, according to Asmani. As of June, New Canaan since the onset of the pandemic had lost about $3.2 million in town revenue already in the areas of parking ($2 million), Recreation Department programs ($560,000) and funds such as property rentals ($670,000), according to Asmani.
Since the selectmen first cited the worksheet in public, a $150,000 allocation for the Parking Fund has been added to the Main List (the only change there).
At a Sept. 27 joint meeting of Town Council and Board of Finance committees, officials said that parameters for the allocations could include that they are one-time payments rather than recurring, that infrastructure projects should benefit all residents and that the funds should not go toward supporting areas normally addressed through taxation. The question of whether money will go toward restoring the General Fund also is open, officials have said.
Board of Finance member Amy Murphy Carroll noted during the Sept. 27 joint meeting that the town has “a lot of big capital projects” right now.
“The Police Department is a big one—certainly health- and safety-[related],” she said, referring to a renovation or rebuilding project that could cost $14.7 million to $23.5 million. She added that “we have the library coming forward” with a project that will see the town make a $10 million contribution.
The question of “premium pay” also came up at that joint meeting. Town Councilman Mark Grzymski raised the prospect of awarding “one-time bonuses to essential workers.”
Murphy Carroll said, “There are people who worked unbelievably hard during COVID while the rest of us—I’m not saying we didn’t work hard—but you helped by staying home, right? But we had a lot of people in this town who put in probably above and beyond, and that is one specific objective or option [of the ARPA spending], is a premium grant or something. I didn’t have to go out. I didn’t have to go to the Police Department. I didn’t have to work as a teacher teaching my kids who were at home, and I had to go to New Canaan. So I think that certainly is a one-time thing. I think it is a one-time ‘thank you’ for all the people that did it. You don’t get to do that often.”
It wasn’t immediately clear which workers would get a portion of the $500,000-plus in “premium pay.” At last week’s meeting, Selectman Kathleen Corbet said “it would be great if we [the full Board of Selectmen] were part of that review, and if you are talking about premium pay, et cetera.”
“I’d like to see the data behind that, what the proposal is,” she said.
Selectman Nick Williams said, “Agree completely here.”
Williams also asked for a breakdown of how the New Canaan Community Foundation envisions the $1 million being distributed. Moynihan said town officials were meeting with the NCCF later in the week.
Corbet said, “Also would you be kind enough to provide us with a list of those who did ask for funds that are not on our list, just so I’m aware of that, or whether have we directed them to the Community Foundation?” (See second table above.)
Town Councilman Rich Townsend and Murphy Carroll during the Sept. 27 joint meeting voiced concerns that the town may not be doing its job of deciding how best to spend the funds if it directs $1 million to NCCF for the organization’s own distribution to local and area nonprofits.
At its Oct. 12 meeting, the finance board voted in favor of recommending an appropriation of $413,000 in the Board of Education’s separately allocated ARPA funds, or about $1,000 for 427 New Canaan Public Schools staff members for “their dedication, compassion, and professionalism throughout the pandemic.” Asmani has said the Board of Ed’s ARPA funds are in a separate pot from the town’s $6 million.
I hope that school nurses and custodial services are also included in ‘New Canaan Public School Staff’.
Is this a ‘wish’ list or a Covid response list directed to damaged sectors of the community ? How about funds for revitalizing New Canaan’s downtown which under-performed due to closed shops and no traffic? Funding new capital items is desirable but do these speak to the purpose of ARPA funds? Some maybe, but so many?