Here’s how Mayor Rossi says West Haven should use its $29M in American Rescue Plan funds

WEST HAVEN — Mayor Nancy Rossi revealed her plan for the city’s $29 million federal allocation of pandemic recovery funding through the American Rescue Plan Act Wednesday.

The plan, which proposes funding priorities for roughly $25.5 million of that funding, comes after months of public hearings and community feedback — a process that at times became contentious, as some elected officials questioned if Rossi’s meticulous approach to compiling the plan was appropriately suited to the urgency of the moment.

City Council Finance Chairwoman Bridgette Hoskie, who was most adamant about the mayor hurrying her pace in January, on Wednesday said she was largely happy with what she saw in the plan.

“I do appreciate her attention to detail in ensuring she did it right, and it’s what the people and the community wanted,” Hoskie said. “Do I wish we were able to do it sooner? Of course, but I think it is a really great start.”

Hoskie said her committee will seek public feedback before making any changes to the plan or approving it, but she hopes to approve it “sooner than later.”

“I’m not going to drag this out,” she said.

Here’s a look at how the mayor plans to spend the ARPA funds:

Arts Center

The largest recipient of funding in the mayor’s plan is a planned downtown arts center. The state has already provided $1.5 million in bonding for the remodeling of an old Masonic Lodge into an arts center. Rossi has proposed $3.5 million in ARPA funding to supplement remodeling efforts.

“This funding proposal will install new electric, plumbing, HVAC, elevator, and base building remodeling to attain a usable space,” Rossi wrote in the plan, adding this is the second capital phase for the space. A planned third phase would outfit the building for specific arts uses, and a fourth phase is “possible.”

Storm resiliency

Rossi has proposed $3 million for storm water management efforts answering “the very loud call from the public to address localized flooding issues that are not necessarily in mapped Special Flood Hazard Areas.”

The first $1 million is proposed to establish a capital fund to maintain the existing storm water infrastructure “through lean budget years.” The mayor has also proposed setting aside $1.4 million to be used for matching funds with outside grants and funding sources.

Rossi has suggested the city buy an advanced technology vacuum truck to be maintained by the city’s Department of Public Works that would replace costly contracted equipment for $487,000.

During multiple public hearings, residents expressed their belief that City Engineer Abdul Quadir is extremely knowledgeable, but if he were to retire the city would lose a lot of institutional knowledge that exists solely in his memory. Rossi proposed setting aside the remaining $113,000 to match a potential state grant that would allow the city to conduct a feasibility study to create a map of the most urgent storm water infrastructure projects.

Fire district improvements

Each of the city’s three fire districts is due to receive $1.025 million under Rossi’s proposed plan. All three districts would receive $1 million for construction and design upgrades to the firehouses, with up to $25,000 per district for air filtration improvements.

Police retention

The city’s police department has struggled with both hiring and retention efforts during the pandemic, on par with other departments in the state. Rossi has proposed a $2.4 million incentive from the ARPA fund to provide $10,000 annual raises for each sworn officer for two fiscal years.

“The City will plan on budgeting this raise for future years,” she said in her plan.

Street paving

Rossi said that in 2021, the city increased its share of street paving projects to take full advantage of discounted prices. However, with oil prices rising and projected industry shortages due to a nationwide investment in improved infrastructure, Rossi has proposed an additional $2 million for the city’s infrastructure paving budget.

Rossi said the city also awaits federal infrastructure funding that could potentially supplement funding for paving projects, but there are currently “no directives.”

Food and shelter

To support the basic needs of the community, Rossi has proposed funding to support housing and hunger initiatives. She suggested setting aside $1 million for the city to establish emergency, short-term housing for families in an “unavoidable housing crisis.” The funding would support the procurement of units, Rossi said, and grant-funded nonprofits would manage the program.

Rossi also earmarked $400,000 for food bank assistance, to be issued as sub-grants to applying community organizations.

Small business support

Rossi has proposed three initiatives to support local small businesses totaling $1 million. The bulk — $750,000 — would support forgivable loan programs for landlords of commercial properties to find small businesses that would require temporary rent assistance to serve as tenants.

The remainder would provide loans of $10,000 or less to small businesses that did not qualify for other loans during the pandemic and would also support web-based businesses.

Other programs

Additionally, the mayor has proposed $1 million in landscaping and hardscaping improvements to city parks; $1 million to support the development of a new Allingtown branch library; $680,000 in public health upgrades including the hire of a community nurse and renovations to the department’s office space in City Hall to expand its offerings; $1,650,000 in municipal building upgrades including $640,000 to relocate the city’s senior center from the third floor of its Noble Street building to the main floor; $1 million to establish a recycling and re-use transfer station to address citywide blight; $500,000 to install cameras in well-known sites for illegal dumping to aid with enforcement of the blight ordinance; $200,000 for microgrants to address first-responder hardship during the course of the pandemic; and $100,000 for sports camps, including $10,000 for a cheer camp.

Rossi has also proposed $700,000 for the city to hire a grant coordinator and for legal and auditing support over three years.

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