Here’s How New Bedford Plans to Spend Its ARPA Funds
NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford stands to gain more than $80 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding — and on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Jon Mitchell revealed how he plans to spend it.
Mitchell also announced that former UMass Dartmouth Public Policy Center senior research associate and assistant director of corporate engagement Elise Rapoza will be hired as the city's ARPA Director.
In her new role, Rapoza will help navigate ARPA criteria and regulations, collaborate with potential funding recipients, track outcomes, document how spending meets ARPA goals, and more.
The city is set to receive $64.7 million in direct funding from the federal program, plus another $16.7 million through Bristol County.
While another $46.5 million is destined for the school district, that department will finalize plans for those funds on its own, according to the mayor's office.
Mitchell said that potential ARPA projects should be evaluated based on their possible return on investment.
“The more matching funding a project receives from private or public sources, the greater the return on the City’s investment will be,” he said.
Mitchell outlined plans for the ARPA funds, writing in a letter to the city council that the city will focus on investing in seven priority areas.
Arts, culture, hospitality and tourism — $18 million
The largest portion of funding will go to address the floundering tourism industry, which was devastated by the pandemic.
Mitchell wrote that many New Bedford facilities have expansion and upgrade plans that have been delayed by coronavirus, but which could have a positive economic impact if realized.
He stated that the city would make funding available to match private sector, or other federal or state funds for the projects.
Funding will also be committed to the city's Arts and Culture fund and its Tourism and Marketing Department.
Strategic investments — $14 million
Mitchell wrote to the city council that the city should "seize opportunities for strategic investments" where possible, explaining that such investments should confer long term benefits that would elevate the city.
As an example, he cited the project to pave the downtown area with cobblestones in the 1970s, noting that the historic district is now the most photographed neighborhood in Southeastern Massachusetts.
Upgrades to port infrastructure, and the marine innovation and conference center could also be included in this section.
Neighborhood stabilization and housing support — $13 million
Mitchell suggested increasing owner-occupancy in distressed neighborhoods by offering city employees and veterans grants for down payments on three-or-more family houses in targeted areas.
Grant recipients would be required to live in the houses for ten years, and not charge rents above fair market rates, he wrote.
Emergency rental assistance funding could also be set aside to help stabilize housing.
The mayor noted that financing gaps have hampered completion on several housing development projects in the city and suggested assisting developers of market-rate units.
He wrote that as there is "considerably more" federal and state funding available for low-income housing, the city should focus its funds on market rate units in neighborhoods with low income residents.
Another housing-related focus would be acquiring and demolishing blighted properties to improve neighborhoods, as well as assessing and remediating brownfields as necessary.
Finally, ARPA funds could go towards finishing a fiber Wi-fi network for lower income neighborhoods and small businesses.
Enhancing open space — $11 million
Mitchell wrote that funding could help hasten improvement projects at Dias Field and Ashley Park, support designing the RiverWalk and a military monument, and upgrade playgrounds and court facilities.
Health, safety and well-being — $8 million
The mayor wrote that these funds would help deal with health disparities for lower income residents, including the city's homeless population, as well as early learning and food security for low-income children.
Funds will also be set aside to provide for the city's continuing pandemic response, including testing, vaccinations, protective equipment, and ventilation systems.
Small business support — $8 million
Mitchell suggested bolstering the city's business facade program with larger grants to help businesses upgrade their outward appearance, noting that commercial corridors like Acushnet Avenue could benefit.
He also stated that funds could be made available for existing business support organization programs to cultivate startups.
Planning for airport infrastructure upgrades could also be funded through this section, allowing the city to compete for future infrastructure funding and helping support businesses that rely on the airport.
Water, wastewater, and stormwater projects — $6 million
New Bedford will have to implement a federal order to improve its storm water and wastewater systems to the tune of some $200 million, Mitchell wrote, adding that using ARPA funds for this would not dent the rate levels necessary to fund the projects.
But some proposed infrastructure spending includes rehabilitating the roadway related to the project sites, which is eligible for ARPA funding.
Administration — $1.5 million
The federal ARPA funding comes with extensive reporting requirements and other administrative costs, including hiring an ARPA director and at least one part-time project manager, legal costs, and other items.
Revenue replacement — $1.2 million
Although tax cuts are not eligible for funding, Mitchell wrote that relief funds could be used to offset revenue loss due to the pandemic.
“The opportunities now before New Bedford are perhaps greater than at any point in the past century,” Mitchell said. “These investments will be instrumental to launching the city out of the pandemic and promoting long-term growth that is sustainable and equitable.”
Extensive public input into investment priorities has included hearings, surveys, stakeholder meetings, written submissions and media coverage.
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