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Stonington planning how to spend $5.2 million in federal COVID-19 aid

Stonington — Town officials have begun creating a list of items that could be funded with the $5.2 million the town expects to receive through the American Rescue Plan.

The initial ideas range from paving and HVAC improvements to money for mental health services, local cultural organizations and help for homeowners to make improvements.

First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said Tuesday residents will be asked to approve the final plan at a town meeting, likely in October. Before then, there will be a public hearing and several finance board and selectmen's meetings to finalize the proposal.

While the Board of Selectmen could approve the spending without a town meeting vote, Chesebrough said she wanted the process to be as transparent as possible.

The $5.2 million is in addition to the several million dollars in federal COVID aid that has been awarded to the school system. Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco said Tuesday the school board will seek community involvement in how those funds are used but the details of how to do that have not yet been discussed. He added he expects further clarity at the board's Aug. 13 meeting.

The $5.2 million grant must be used to cover costs the town incurs between March 3, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2024, and the money has to be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Town officials have been discussing how to spend the money with input from local organizations and stakeholders, and Chesebrough's draft plan is the result of those discussions. Items and allocations in the draft could be changed before the final vote based on the input over the coming months.

The draft calls for allocating $500,000 to a program that would provide loans to income-eligible homeowners and landlords to improve their residential properties. While the loans are in effect, the units would be designated as affordable housing to increase the town's affordable housing stock. The town would partner with an outside agency to administer the program and oversee the improvements to ensure the money is spent properly. Chesebrough said it is possible the loans could transition into no-interest or even partly forgivable loans the longer they remain in effect and the properties stay affordable. 

In the area of mental health, $250,000 could be used to help open a satellite office of the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut in the former Pawcatuck Middle School, while $25,000 would be used to help fund the state 211 system and an additional part-time counselor at the Human Services Department.

Twin $100,000 allocations would go to the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition and the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce to distribute to local cultural groups and businesses.

Two drainage projects, one at Town Hall and the other at the Fourth District Voting Hall in Mystic, would be funded with $525,000. The voting hall project also would create 25 to 30 public parking spots in the downtown, which is plagued by a parking shortage. 

The largest allocation, $2 million, would fund HVAC improvements at Town Hall and the Human Services Building. Another $500,000 would go toward restoring money for paving that was cut from the budget and $125,000 for town cybersecurity improvements.

Another $500,000 would help fund a project, which is also expected to receive $1.9 million in federal funding this fall, to create a loop system to bring water through Pawcatuck and eliminate the current situation in which a backup could block water from reaching locations such as the high school, police station and Brookside Village. 

The draft also calls for adding an additional emergency dispatcher so there would be two on duty at night, and $40,000 to a facility that would provide supportive services for adults with disabilities that is under construction in downtown Pawcatuck by the Sylvestre family.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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