Wilton first selectwoman: Reimbursements from American Rescue Plan may be limited

Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said that the town's reimbursement opportunities through the American Rescue Plan Act may be limited.

Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said that the town’s reimbursement opportunities through the American Rescue Plan Act may be limited.

Jeannette Ross / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — As local leaders examine the best way to utilize the $5.3 million allotted to Wilton through the federal American Rescue Plan, early indications show there may be limited reimbursements available to the town because of its improved financial standing, the first selectwoman has said.

According to the plan, funds can be used up until Dec. 31, 2024, for specific causes involving “the COVID-19 public health emergency and cover costs related to it, including assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits and affected industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.” Funds may also be used to pay essential workers and invest in infrastructure, among other initiatives.

Qualified expenditures, or money spent, would have to have taken place on March 3 of this year onward, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said at a Board of Finance meeting earlier this week.

“So it does not go back to the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “Which puts you in a little bit of a difficult position, because you’re not going to know if it’s an expenditure you may have qualified (for) until after you’ve spent the money.”

She added that the town must be careful to make certain the money spent will qualify for ARP reimbursements.

Vanderslice said Wednesday that the town is discussing setting a room up in the Comstock Community Center for both remote and hybrid meetings.

“Those expenses would be reimbursable,” she said, as the project would be infrastructure work directly related to the pandemic.

The National League of Cities, an organization of city, town and village leaders that help and advocate for each other on improving the quality of life for their current and future constituents, is providing information for municipalities to clear up language and better understand what expenditures will qualify. These training sessions are ongoing.

Vanderslice also said the Western Connecticut Council of Governments will be providing a consultant to assist member towns, noting the grant “does allow for reimbursement of expenses to a consultant” to help determine how to spend the money.

One of the conditions of reimbursable funds is lost revenue from the fiscal year prior to the pandemic. Vanderslice that because the town was overbudget in total revenue, meaning that it did not suffer from lost revenue as a whole, it does qualify for that reimbursement.

“This creates a difficulty for a community like Wilton where we don’t have that many people who are underserved or at an income level that would qualify for a lot of assistance,” Vanderslice explained.

She also pointed out a slide taken from the National League of Cities, which points to reimbursement opportunities for towns that “have 50 percent of households with incomes below 60 percent of the area median income” or have a “poverty rate of 25 percent or more.” Once again, Wilton does not qualify in that category.

“As you go through the training or language, you can see how maybe only a limited amount of that will qualify (for Wilton),” Vanderslice said.

At the meeting, Board of Finance Member Chris Stroup said “perhaps we don’t have the needs” other communities may have and that should be looked at as a positive.

Vanderslice agreed, saying she would “rather be in the position where we don’t qualify because we don’t need it.”

“That is usually how these programs would work, based on need, where more would be directed towards cities and underseved communities,” Vanderslice said Wednesday.

As for the upcoming emergency radio project vote in the fall, the first selectwoman and the BOF want to be sure that the money allotted could be used for the project before making any decision. While the language in the ARP states “broadband infrastructure” as an included investment option, Vanderslice said she wants to make sure to avoid putting the next generation of selectmen and finance board members in a bind.

“We really need the guidance to be 100 percent clear,” she said.