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Town of Shaftsbury, VT
PO Box 409
61 Buck Hill Road
Shaftsbury, Vermont 05262

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Phone: (802) 442-4038
Fax: (802) 442-0955
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Shaftsbury Finds Workaround to ARPA Money Spending Deadline

Posted: June 22, 2024

SHAFTSBURY - The town will avoid a strenuous dash to get ARPA-funded community center projects designed and under contract before a Dec. 31 federal spending deadline.

Shaftsbury originally received an allocation of $1,025,627 through 2021's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and has $658,149 left. The town would like to use the remaining ARPA funding to develop a town green with pavilion and community center - and make the town offices at Cole Hall accessible.

In late 2023, however, the federal deadline for obligating the funds in contracts for shovel-ready projects was moved up to Dec. 31, 2024. This created a problem because the Shaftsbury community projects were not far enough along to meet this deadline.

Working with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the town auditor, legal advisors and Town Treasurer Melanie Dexter, town officials decided to apply the bulk of the ARPA funds retroactively to cover payroll. Some $100,000 of the $658,149 will be expended this year to removed two buildings on land the town has bought near Cole Hall for the future projects.

Town Administrator Paula Iken and Board Vice Chair Martha Cornwell prepared a statement explaining the plan and Cornwell read it at Monday's Select Board meeting.

"In keeping with the federal government’s guidelines on what ARPA funds may be used for, the Select Board will be passing a resolution to obligate and expend state and local fiscal recovery funds ... for the purpose of municipal workforce retention to reimburse the town for payroll expenses for the period of Sept. 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024, supporting our response to and recovery from the COVID 19 public health emergency," Cornwell said.

"Taking this approach will make the general fund revenue available that would have otherwise paid for the municipal operating expenses identified in the resolution," she said. "Using one-time unanticipated revenue, ARPA, will create a fund balance in the general fund."

The Select Board will then ask the voters at the March 2025 town election to approve use of this fund balance to create a new reserve fund for the community projects. If the vote it positive, the funds will then be included in the fiscal 2026 spending plan.

After agreeing to set aside $100,000 to be spent this year on building demolition on properties purchased by the town for the community center project, Select Board unanimously approved the resolution to apply $558,149 retroactvelly to payroll, creating a fund balance of that amount in the general fund.

"Doing this will allow us to get matching funds from the federal government, from state government, from local foundations to continue to create the work that the citizens have asked us to do in building the town green and community center and pavilion," Cornwell said.

Board Chair Naomi Miller said the funds saved through the retroactive application of the ARPA funds will no longer be federal money.

"This will allow us to use the money as we thought we would be able to originally, before the feds rolled the spending deadline forward," Miller said. "For the record, this is a large amount of money and a big decision and we spent a long time researching it."

Officials said that many other towns are taking this route in an effort to avoid rushing to obligate their funds before the Dec. 31 deadline. "I talked about it with (auditor Sullivan Powers & Co.) and they’re helping a bunch of towns figure out how to do this," Dexter said.

The Select Board created a Community Center Development Committee earlier this year and has been purchasing property around Cole Hall. Community Survey

In 2023, the town's Economic Development Committee conducted a survey of residents. The EDC issued the survey to follow up on the Shaftsbury ARPA Committee's recommendation that "money should be used to turn Cole Hall and its immediate surroundings into a Community Center/Town Green – one that can host community events both large and small, indoors and outdoors."

The survey generated 128 responses from residents.

Question 1 asked, "Which of the following amenities would you like to see in the Community Center?" Getting the greatest response were the options meeting/events/fitness space and offerings for seniors and youth.

Question 2 asked, "Which of the following amenities would you like to see on the Town Green?"

Getting the greatest response were the options picnic tables and grassy green and a gazebo/stage for performance.

The community's desire for these amenities will be tested again in the vote next March. "We’re kind of counting on our fellow citizens," Miller said.

Compliments of: The Bennington Banner
Posted/Author: Mark Rondeau

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