By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
PROSPECT — Town officials are moving ahead to determine how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds after gathering data from a town survey.
The town received $1.4 million out of its total $2.8 million federal American Rescue Plan Act funds in June 2021 and $400,000 this month, so far. The ARPA Funds Subcommittee — composed of Town Council members Theresa C. Graveline, Kathryn Zandri, Megan Patchkofsky and Michael Palmerie Jr. — sent out an ARPA survey earlier in the year. There were 886 submissions collected from the beginning of February until April 18.
The funds need to be committed by 2024. They need to be expended by 2026. The funds are currently deposited in an interest-bearing certificate of deposit.
The survey had questions including a public health response, replace public sector revenue loss, water or sewer infrastructure projects, to support people negatively affected economically, to pay essential workers’ wages, to support broadband infrastructure and any other suggestions residents have for the funds.
The most responses came in the category of public health. Respondents also wanted outdoor spaces in town and a renovation or relocation of the police department and purchase of necessary equipment, Zandri said during a special town council meeting on Aug. 15.
“I’m not surprised that outdoor space had the largest number and I think the reason it had the largest number is that everyone from the youths of the town all the way to the elderly will be using it,” Town Council member Stan Pilat said.
Zandri recommended hiring the firm of Jacunski Humes Architects of Berlin to perform a needs assessment for $25,000 on a relocation of the town’s 1,500-square-foot police department facility. The firm has worked on projects with multiple police departments, including its current project with Plymouth’s police department.
“They’re very well-versed in what police departments need,” Zandri said.
Zandri said she would also like to see the parking lot at Hotchkiss Field and the walking trail around that park both paved. She also wanted an electronic public announcement board in front of town hall.
Fitzgerald said he would like to see estimates for a pavilion at Hotchkiss Field.
Graveline said one of council’s biggest stumbling blocks is determining the price of projects.
“One of the first things we do have to do is get cost estimates,” Graveline said.
Mayor Robert Chatfield said town officials would be getting requests for proposals compared to going out bid with a set of plans.
“If we ask for a proposal, it would be up to the person that’s giving me the proposal to figure out what that company is going to do when they give us a price,” Chatfield said.
A sampling of things people thought the town could use the money for a dog park, a splash pad, walking trails, efforts to attract more small businesses to town, town swimming pool, road repairs, support programs that promote healthy living, upgrades to the community center, updates and additions to parks and playgrounds, extend natural gas lines through town, expand the food bank, road upgrades, providing COVID-19 testing kits and masks.
Patchkofsky said the next steps would be to research the projects that are most favored by town officials and residents and what would bring the best services for current and future needs of the town.
“Projects identified for funding will follow the town of Prospect purchasing procedures, town meeting process and town charter guidelines,” Patchkofsky said.
Pilat said town officials should have proposals come back to them without any strings attached to see where they could have funds to allocate.
“At least this way if we have estimates in front of us with no strings attached, I think it could make our decision a lot easier on how to place the money,” Pilat said.
Patchkofsky said the first step is to get price estimates but she would like to see town officials fall within certain areas so that they’re not reaching out trying to gain all kinds of information and not even really consider one way or another.
“I think at some point we need to lock down which ways we want to go for sure and then gain the information,” Patchkofsky said.
“We want to promote things that would be lasting, that would serve generations to come and still be here,” Zandri said.
Graveline subsequently said the ARPA subcommittee’s role is over after it gathered town data and the council needs another meeting for an ARPA discussion. It’s time for the full council to brainstorm and make decisions with the mayor, she added.
The council has not made decisions on projects.
“We’re leaning towards improving the indoor and outdoor public spaces,” Graveline said. “We’re going to address those things. We’re going to pay attention to what the public is asking for.”
The Town Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.