Finance Board To Hear ARPA $$$ Requests

Next year, Westport will receive $8.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act  funding. The money is part of a $2.2 trillion CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) economic stimulus package.

Earlier this month, “06880” reported one possible use. The Greens Farms Association hopes the town can repair the crumbling jetty at Burying Hill Beach.

On January 5 (7:30 p.m., Zoom), the Board of Finance will review a $1.3 million request from the Department of Public Works for that project.

They’ll also discuss an application for $200,643 in funds from the Westport Arts Advisory Council. It includes 12 organizations that could use some of that money:

Artists Collective of Westport: $20,000 to beautify new bus shelters with changing local artist work; full-color, large-scaled prints of adjudicated works to rotate every 2 months.

Beechwood Arts: $20,000 for 4 all-arts collaborative events, including community scavenger hunts, art opening, story share and facilitated dinner discussion.

JIB Productions: $20,000 for 2 projects: 1) Play Time (professionally moderated structred play reading/discussion group, 6 sessions at the Senior Center); 2) Partnership with Westport Library, Bridgeport schools and Westport schools to screen (with director talk-back) “Change the Name,” a documentary abouyt a group of middle school students who successfully changed the name of a Chicago park from slaveholder to abolitionist.

Levitt Pavilion: $20,000 to underwrite 4 free presentations for 2022 summer season, including folk, jazz, rock and big band concerts.

MoCA: $20,000 for weekly art enrichment workshops for underserved community groups such as STAR, Silver Hill Hospital, Veterans groups/Homes for the Brave, Bridgeport Boys & Girls Club, etc.

Suzuki School of Music: $20,000 for a community concert series in-person and streamed from the Westport Library; Connecticut Guitar Festival, Concerto and Aria Concert, Piano Concerto Concert and Family Pillow Concerts.

Westport Country Playhouse: $20,000 for a pilot program mobile tour of elementary school plays, touring Westport and Fairfield County; partnering with TEAM Westport, ConnectUs, the Boys & Girls Club of Connecticut/Southport, Westport Library and Norwalk Housing Authority.

Westport Museum of History & Culture: $20,000 for a graphic novel to explore the American Revolution from 6 perspectives: women, Indigenous people, enslaved and free Americans, loyalists, patriots, and local authors/illustrators.

WestPAC: $20,000 for art storage: professional fees ($125 an hour/160 hours) to perform a feasibility study to to adapt town-owned facilities for the Collection’s storage needs.

Community Band: $12,500 to commission a piece to commemorate the COVIDI experience, to be played at the Levitt Pavilion.

Music for Youth $6,518 for the Arkai gender-bending string duo 2-day residency and pormances a Westport middle schools and Staples High; master classes for orchestra students, performances for full schools.

Westport School of Music: $3,625 for a faculty chamber concert for The Residence at Westport assisted-living facility.

The Board of Finance meeting on January 5 will be streamed on www.WestportCT.gov, and shown on Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Emails can be sent to BOF@westportct.gov. Comments to be read during public comment period may be emailed to BOFcomments@westportct.gov.

18 responses to “Finance Board To Hear ARPA $$$ Requests

  1. Except for the jetty, it is sad that we are so affluent that we cannot find better uses for this money?? This money was intended to be used for investments in our community and not on ourselves. Would we borrow money for these things? Well, that is exactly what America has done and we will have to repay America’s enormously generous gift as part of our National Debt. COVID has destroyed many of our small businesses, why not give them a grant to help them reopen? Why not put it toward preserving land from development? We need to put controls on the ideas we are considering or maybe a better idea is to donate it to a poorer, needier town or just give it back.

  2. Do I read correctly that the Burying Hill price tag seems to have morphed from the previous (‘shovel ready’) $900K to $1.3M? (Happy 2022!)

  3. Dan, this is a great discussion for the Town, and we hope the engaged folks reading your journal show up and advocate at the BOF meeting on this topic.
    A few points for consideration of the proposals
    1. What is the relationship to “recovery”?
    2. Is this a one time expense or does it have lasting benefits? Is it an investment with a communal residual benefit or is one time consumption?
    3. What is the strategy behind the difficult choices being proposed. Limited funds and a whole bunch of project advocates. E.G. How should we choose between a jetty and a new handicapped friendly playground for our kids?
    4. Is the spending amount being proposed appropriate for the project? Does the project itself make sense?
    5. Does the Town or BOE have the band width to implement the project effectively.
    6. Should the proposal be funded in the normal course. (Regular budget or capital plan)
    7. If the funds are being distributed to a non Government entity, does that entity truly “need” the funding. This is not a “free” handout. There are alternatives.
    8. Are there worthy causes we have not considered. How far was the net cast?
    Dan, there are numerous additional elements to making good decisions around this topic. In my experience of our funding bodies and the administration, always try to be considerate and fair. We all agree these choices are tough and cannot be determined by who was first in one to show up, or which group complains the loudest.
    It is important that we give the administration ample time lay out their logic and strategy and explain why they have decided upon totality of the distributions. In the recent elections all candidates spoke about making prioritized choices and now is an excellent time for these to be explained.
    Keep the comments coming; This is great.
    Brian Stern

  4. Apologies. A happy new year to all.

  5. Thanks for this information. However, the funds allocation proposals mentioned here only cover about 20% of the total Westport federal relief funds. How do we find out where the other 6.9 million might go?

  6. Why not use the money to do clean up and repairs around Westport.

  7. Rowene, I totally agree. Before we march off approving incremental projects we should certainly see and discuss the totality of the $8.4m request.

  8. Per our President at the time it passed … “The American Rescue Plan will provide emergency grants, lending, and investment to hard-hit small businesses so they can rehire and retain workers and purchase the health and sanitation equipment they need to keep workers safe.” So Westport will be considering a jetty repair and possible arts grants? Nothing against those ambitions but calls into question why Westport is receiving any funds given the original intent. Makes you wonder how much $ is truly going toward actual relief?!

  9. Though I love and appreciate arts in our town, I agree with many comments above that the purpose of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) economic stimulus package) monies needs to go to purposes under that umbrella… that help the underserved or covid challenged places/projects… like Homes for Hope and other Human Services department needs, or struggling restaurants, or seniors and the senior center or single parent housing, or camp or college scholarships for kids, to local scout or Rotary activities or to Downtown Merchants Assoc to help build back Main St etc.

  10. I would ask that the $8 million be spent on adding new affordable housing units. I have no idea how many units are needed to satisfy the 8-30g requirement, but if it could be satisfied, it would have an enormous positive impact on Westport. It seems to me that if we continue to allow developers to build large complexes that are only 30% “affordable,” we will never meet the 10% requirement of 8-30g. Time for the town to take control of its future, and use this money to build (or, subsidize) affordable housing.

    • This is a great idea.

    • I agree with Elaine. A few years ago Westport stopped putting families on the waiting list for affordable housing. Households have now likely fallen through the cracks. National data shows that those who were standing at the edge of the cliff were hit the hardest by Covid and the related economics effects.
      Each of the items mentioned has merit in its own right. But Westport is responsible for spending funds granted in ways that are in keeping with the grant. Meeting the needs of the least among us should be a primary concern.
      Sheltering (improving shelter) for the homeless.
      Adding affordable housing. Westport needs to add to our inventory in order to be exempt from the mandates which have plagued us and given commercial developers greater rights than if our housing stock met the state requirements. This is a three-fer:
      1) Provide housing to those qualifying households who need it
      2) Exempt us from 830g and its related restrictions.
      3) Increase diversification in Westport.

      I assume there is an organized approach for weighing priorities for the grant expenditures. The question arose about why the RTM, our most representative body, was not doing the allocation. We were told the administration was where the authority sat.

      Perhaps the process has not been well explained. If we start by entertaining requests from neighborhood associations and community councils this process could end up pitting organizations against each other. What’s to stop those of us who currently don’t have neighborhood associations from forming one right away and submitting proposals. I don’t think that is in keeping with how Westport operates.

      Please pause and enunciate:
      1) Who can and cannot apply.
      2) What criteria must be met to be in keeping with the grant objectives. Once that is clear:
      3) A specific timeframe for such application.
      4) The ability for citizens to see the breadth of submittals in able understand the reasoning behind the proposals. Taxpayers should have the opportunity to speak out regarding expenditures, as during the budget process. Those project submitters mentioned above including the PWD and community group advocates can have the opportunity to speak to why their proposals better answer the grant intentions than others proposed.

      I believe the jetty work has been on the long-term plan for quite some time. I have concerns about using specific grant funds to clear our long-term capital plan list.

  11. I’m not involved in any of these projects, but one of the industries still hit hardest in the pandemic is the live performing arts. When we speak about supporting businesses that were closed and using government funds to help them, asks like this seem very consistent with the original goals.

  12. As I read down the list of proposed projects, my blood pressure increased. In some instances, it was difficult to discern a material “public benefit”. As non-profits, the organizations at issue have most likely already availed themselves of federal recovery funds. So what are we doing?

  13. Did everyone forget PPP?

  14. Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu

    Westport is and has always been known as being a town rich in and welcoming to the arts. That, along with the many other wonderful things about this town, is what draws people here and keeps them here. The arts programs listed in Dan’s article make up 2.4% of $8.4 million and would be spread out across 12 different projects and organizations. There are many priorities in Westport and many of the suggestions in these comments are great ones – and 97.6% of the money is going to fund these other priorities. Arts organizations in town are struggling in ways that many residents may not know. First, not all arts non-profits received PPP funds, which were meant to cover salaries and operating expenses (much of the heavy lifting for arts programs is still done by volunteers) and many of us still continued to put out programs virtually and for free in these last 2 years to maintain meaningful connections to and between our community. Anyone who has run or worked for a local arts organization knows that things often run on a shoestring and that our arts organizations squeeze as much as they can out of each dollar. Two years of limits on audiences and gatherings (and fundraisers!) have taken a toll that most cannot see. The money received for these grants is not only a very small percentage of the total for something that is a big part of the town’s identity, but it will be used 100% to create positive things for the healing of our community. As 30+ year residents of Westport, 10 year Directors of a small but mighty arts non profit in town (that did not receive any federal money) and performing and visual artists ourselves, we love this town and its creative vibe. We would like to believe that less than 3% invested across all the arts would do something to allow Westport to continue our leadership of being a rich cultural place that is supportive to the arts, while still leaving $8.2 million to other priorities.

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