City Briefing: Northampton holding listening sessions on spending $4 million in ARPA funds

  • Northampton City Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Atallah, left, and First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/7/2022 1:40:02 PM
Modified: 6/7/2022 1:37:53 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city is hosting a series of listening sessions both in-person and via Zoom to hear ideas from residents, nonprofits and businesses about the best ways to spend federal pandemic relief money.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra has set aside $4 million of the city’s $21.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for projects that are “designed to aid in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and have a positive impact upon the community,” her office announced.

The city’s ARPA Commission wants to hear people’s priorities for use of the money, but specific projects will not be discussed. Projects will be submitted after the commission develops an application and RFP process. Under the law, all of the federal funding must be committed by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

There are four categories of acceptable uses: responding to the pandemic or supporting the economy through assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits; paying essential workers a premium, even retroactively; providing government services in a dollar amount that is equal to the pandemic-related reduction in city revenue during the last fiscal year; and making necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

A recent community survey showed that residents’ highest priorities for the funds are food security, climate change efforts, housing assistance, homelessness assistance and public health response.

“I am excited to begin the listening process and am very grateful to the dedicated residents who are helping to guide and build an extensive, equitable and inclusive process,” Sciarra said.

Masks are encouraged and will be provided at in-person events. The first session was held on Tuesday at City Hall. The remaining schedule is as follows:

■In person: Wed., June 8, 6 p.m., Jackson Street School cafeteria, 120 Jackson St. Child care and Spanish interpreter available with advance sign-up. Contact the mayor’s office.

■Virtual: Thurs., June 9, 7 p.m., https://bit.ly/3PWWm8p

■In person: Mon., June 13, 5:30 p.m., Union Station, 125A Pleasant St.

■In person: Wed., June 15, 2 p.m., Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St.

■In person: Thurs., June 16, 3:30 p.m., Florence Civic Center (90 Park St.). The session is meant for small businesses, non-profits and other community organizations, but all are welcome to attend.

■Virtual: Tues., June 21, 7 a.m., https://bit.ly/3NZCks7

■In person: Thurs., June 23, 6 p.m., Florence Heights Community Room, 178 Florence Rd. Spanish language interpreter available.

Sojourner Truth scholarships

Five graduates of Hampshire County high schools earned the Sojourner Truth Social Justice Award this year in recognition of work that keeps the spirit of the famed abolitionist and women’s rights advocate alive.

Three of the recipients graduated from Northampton High School on June 5: Chloe Bucs, Maddie Raymond and Kamini Waldman. Awards also went to Zaida Streit of Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, president of the Black Student Union, and Simone Robinson of Amherst Regional High School, who organized anti-racism work at the school.

According to the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee, Bucs interned for the Jewish food justice program Abundance Farm and used the leadership skills she learned to address a bullying issue at the Starlight Youth Theater. Raymond writes a monthly column on social justice issues for the Greenfield Recorder called “Speak Now” and Waldman, the NHS Student Union president, was credited with raising money for “personal supplies as well as school materials for students to access on a daily basis.”

The award comes with a $1,500 scholarship funded by local businesses and individual donations. The committee has handed out 49 awards since 2006.

The awards ceremony was held virtually on May 29 rather than at the traditional site of the Sojourner Truth memorial statue in Florence due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sojourner Truth is such an important, iconic figure in the life of this community in every way,” committee chair Carol Rinehart said during the ceremony. “I think it’s just such a privilege to be associated with her great energy. … You really join a great group” of past recipients.

Local prosecutor lauded

Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Atallah was among 11 prosecutors across the state honored with the Massachusetts District Attorney Association’s Spotlight Award last month.

An Amherst native, Atallah, 36, has worked in the DA’s office for eight years. He was recently promoted “to work in Hampshire and Franklin Superior Courts on complex criminal cases including serious financial crimes and sexually dangerous person litigation,” according to a news release announcing the award.

The DA’s office said Atallah has worked in each of the four district courts in Northampton, Greenfield, Belchertown and Orange, trying more cases than any other prosecutor in the past five years. While assigned to Northampton, he was the designated prosecutor for domestic violence cases.

Atallah graduated from Tufts University in 2008 and earned his law degree at Duke University in 2014.

The MDAA is an independent state agency. Each of the 11 district attorney’s offices in the state selects one prosecutor to receive the Spotlight Award at the organization’s annual conference in Boston. The award recognizes outstanding service, spirit and professionalism.

“Nick has become one of the leaders on our staff because he never backs down from whatever challenge his caseload has in store for him,” First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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