Cumberland in holding pattern on federal stimulus funds

Cumberland in holding pattern on federal stimulus funds

CUMBERLAND – The town of Cumberland is slated to receive $10.5 million in federal stimulus funds, but Mayor Jeff Mutter, along with other local leaders, is still waiting on clearer guidelines for how the town can spend that money.

“This is a good chunk of money, which could position needed improvements that don’t have to come out of a strained tax base,” Mutter told The Breeze last week. “We’re not complaining about the amount, that’s for sure.”

The town is likely to not see funds like these again, he said, and the ideal situation would be to earmark them for capital improvement projects. The American Rescue Act, signed into law in March, will provide the town $10.5 million in two installments, according to Mutter, which must be used by the end of 2024. The federal stimulus package includes $350 billion in direct aid to states, local governments, tribes and territories, with Rhode Island communities receiving more than $540 million, according to a release from the office of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.

Last month Magaziner said municipalities can use the funding for a variety of purposes, including supporting small businesses, helping students make up for learning loss, upgrading infrastructure and improving public health systems, but local leaders are hopeful that restrictions will be eased, allowing more uses for the funds.

“With these stimulus funds, Rhode Island has an opportunity to spur a broad-based economic recovery for all Rhode Islanders,” Magaziner said.

Mutter said that he expects to see the first round of funds sometime this month, adding that he wished uses for the funds were already clearly delineated so that town officials could already be in the planning stages.

While some people believe restrictions on uses will be loosened, Mutter said that since that hasn’t been confirmed yet, he doesn’t want to make any promises on how they’ll spend the funds “until it’s clear what’s available.”

For a previous Breeze article, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi said he’s hoping the $9.4 million his town is receiving can end up benefiting recreational projects in that town.

“We share that same desire as Mayor Lombardi,” Mutter said, adding that ideally he hopes to “touch all aspects of Cumberland residents’ lives with those funds.” Cumberland town officials have floated ideas of how to spend the money if restrictions are loosened, he said, including on recreation initiatives, roadways, and sidewalks.

On the recreation front, funds could assist current plans to improve Diamond Hill Park, he noted. “The pace is a little slower than we’d like,” he said. “We are making progress with the bathroom facility and pond.”

Sidewalks are another important issue in town, and Mutter said they’ve been throwing around some ideas on that front as well.

Once officials have clear guidelines, Mutter said he plans to assemble some people, with the help of the Cumberland Town Council, to come up with a strategy on how to best spend the funds. When asked when he expects to have more concrete guidelines, he said he thinks within 30 to 60 days officials should have a good idea.

While the word has been overused, Mutter said, the Cumberland community has been extremely resilient throughout the pandemic.

With many construction projects going on that have been slowed over the past year, residents have been patient and accommodating, he said.