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Council Allocates $2.24 Million in ARPA Funds

The City Council voted on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, to authorize a plan for spending the $2,242,786.27 the City is slated to receive from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

At a workshop on November 30 of last year, City Manager Steve Buck offered a proposed spending plan to the Council, and with their input, refined it into the final plan outlined below. The plan may be amended by the Council at any time through the end of 2024.

Two line items address ventilation at City Hall. These are Covid-related improvements that will benefit the public as well as City employees. The City Clerk’s office, which has the most public traffic, and the Council Chambers, which has the largest occupancy, will both be upgraded with an air-to-air heat recovery system that brings in a constant flow of fresh air without creating chills, at a cost of $33,490.

Adding a Social Worker/Community Outreach position to the Police Department for three years will use $275,000 of ARPA funds. Mr. Buck said the goal of this position is to reduce the frequent multiple calls to Police and EMS from residents whose mental health, substance abuse, and other needs haven’t been addressed, and allow the Police Department to address other high-priority issues. This will be a pilot program, the effectiveness of which will be measured before it is added into the regular Police Department budget after the three years are up. Mr. Buck said he expects it to result in a positive impact to the City’s budget in future years.

At the ARPA workshop in November, Deputy Chief Eric Small said adding the social worker position will also allow the Department to respond in a way that is less intimidating than a uniformed officer might be to some of the people needing assistance.

One of the allowed uses of ARPA funds is to bring services up to pre-pandemic levels. To that end, hiring of two dispatchers for the Sanford Regional Communications Center for three years will use $449,075 and bring the Center back up to a full staff of 22 people. Sanford Regional Communications Center Director Bill Tower told the Council that the City has been able to attract new candidates recently and he expects to be able to fill those positions. Mr. Buck said hiring the two dispatchers will reduce the City’s overtime budget for the Center considerably.

A revolving fund for the Land Bank to use in creating high-quality affordable housing will receive $300,000 of ARPA funds. The City has partnered with the Sanford Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity on past projects. This funding will ramp up those efforts to rehab dilapidated homes, or build on land where the Land Bank has demolished homes that were past saving. The new homes will then be sold, so the money can be reinvested in the next project. Under ARPA rules, the homes will have to be on Sanford’s east side, which is one of only two qualified census tracts in the entire state of Maine. A qualified census tract is one in which 50% of the households have incomes below 60% of the area median gross income. The Sanford tract includes the area on the east side of Main St. bounded by Washington St. and Cottage St. to the north and Route 4 to the south, all the way to the Alfred line.

One of the focus areas for ARPA is broadband expansion. The City will use $200,000 for this purpose. Bringing the SanfordNet Fiber network to the Midtown Mall area will use more than half of this amount. The Midtown Mall could not be included when SNF was first installed because the underground conduits there are failing and full of water, according to Mr. Buck. The funds will enable construction of new conduits up Riverside Ave. and under St. Ignatius St. The remaining money will be used to connect businesses that are near SNF. Mayor Mastraccio said the downtown area will never grow without an investment in broadband, and the rest of the Council agreed.

Planned improvements to Carpentier Park will use $95,167 of ARPA funds. The amount reflects the matching funds the City expected to spend for the project, complementing a $154,750 grant received from the National Parks Service. See this story for details on the improvements. This is another project that is only doable because the Park is located in a qualified census tract.

While most infrastructure improvements do not qualify for use of ARPA funds, the qualified census tract on the City’s east side enables Sanford to use funds for this purpose while most other communities cannot. $585,000 is being allocated for the purchase of land for a new Fire Station, which Mr. Buck said will be within the tract. The City Council and Fire Station Feasibility Committee have met in executive session several times over the past few months, discussing the purchase of property.

Training of first responders is another allowable category under ARPA rules, and Sanford will use $302,294 to train employees over the next three years. This includes six inexperienced dispatchers and six experienced ones. While we are only filling two dispatcher positions, Mr. Buck said the high stress of the job leads to a steady turnover, so it is an ongoing cost. However, if increasing the Communications Center to a full staff results in less turnover, those funds could be used for other purposes. In addition, the funds will provide paramedic training for four firefighters, and send four police officers to the Academy. This is a direct savings to the municipal budget.

The appropriations total 99.88% of the ARPA funds allotted to Sanford. 50% of the ARPA funds were received in September of 2021, with the other half scheduled to be received in September of this year.

Mr. Buck told the Council that there are other anticipated funding sources that may come to Sanford, including money for broadband expansion and the pending opioid settlement funds. Those revenues could allow the Council to reallocate the ARPA funds to other allowable projects or departments.

The Council voted 5-0 in favor of the ARPA spending proposal. Councilor John Tuttle was absent with notice and Council Jonathan Martell was having connectivity issues.

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