Amherst finalizes federal ARPA spending list

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2021 4:06:29 PM

AMHERST — An economic empowerment officer position to aid in revitalizing Amherst, and the creation of a youth empowerment center as recommended by the Community Safety Working Group, are in line to receive portions of the town’s $9.77 million pot from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

In a refined version of a proposal unveiled in October, Finance Director Sean Mangano recently presented a spending plan to the Town Council that he said aligns with municipal priorities, including projects seen through a lens of equity and sustainability. The final proposals were developed following public engagement listening sessions and feedback from the town’s Engage Amherst website.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Tuesday that he will soon begin implementing the plan, observing that the town can spend only on items that meet ARPA guidelines.

The economic empowerment officer, at $250,000, will focus on expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs, artists and cultural organizations, as well as building economic partnerships with the University of Massachusetts and Amherst and Hampshire colleges.

It is viewed as a two- to three-year position to help with revitalization of the town while coming out of the pandemic. “This position we view a temporary, not permanent,” Mangano said.

The youth empowerment center might be created in-house under the leadership of the Recreation Department, though Mangano said a request for proposal advertisement could be issued. The plan is to set aside $500,000 for the center.

Amherst is also looking to invest $400,000 in premium pay for designated town employees who were required to work in person during the pandemic.

“One of the fundamental uses that was identified in the ARPA grant program was additional compensation for staff who were at risk and came to work each day through the pandemic to keep the community running,” Mangano said.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen wondered if this extra pay could be targeted to people on the lower end of the pay scale. Mangano said that is possible.

There is $195,000 going to a delivery service program, through fiscal year 2024, at the Amherst Survival Center. That is an additional $105,000 for this initiative.

Funding of $625,000 would go toward four additional EMS positions, bringing the Fire Department from 47 to 51 full-time equivalents. These positions would also be phased into the operating budget beginning in fiscal year 2025 after councilors worried that the new firefighter/paramedic positions might be lost.

While $150,000 will still support the COVID-19 ambassador program, Mangano tweaked this to allow the personnel to work both downtown and then go to underserved areas elsewhere in Amherst. These people are seen as an extension of community participation officers doing outreach related to the pandemic.

Several of the items in the initial plan remain unchanged, including $175,000 that would go toward building a downtown public bathroom building, $250,000 for the start-up costs related to the community responders program that will serve as an alternative to the police force and $300,000 for expanding child care slots and affordability for families with young children. Also, $1 million would still go toward transitional housing and shelter solutions, and another $1 million would expand affordable housing stock in town.

Bockelman said each project will have different pacing, with some depending on input from other officials, such as Superintendent Michael Morris participating in child care initiatives.

Amherst will have another $2.1 million in ARPA funds to spend in the fall of 2022.




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