WOONSOCKET – Of the 154 individuals who responded to a city survey on how to use approximately $36.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, nearly half listed housing needs as one of their top priorities.
Also high on the list of preferred spending areas were infrastructure, including road paving, mental health and domestic violence services, community health and wellness and water infrastructure.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt on Tuesday announced the release of the survey, which was made available on the city website between July 9 and Aug. 10. Baldelli-Hunt said 87 percent of the respondents identified as city residents, while several others were city employees, business owners or associated with organizations within the city.
“We want to thank everyone who completed our ARPA survey. The feedback that we received from residents, businesses, workers and organizations will help us prioritize the use of ARPA funds in the best way possible,” she said in a statement.
“These funds represent an historic opportunity to make strategic investments that allow our community to recover from the pandemic and then move us forward toward a brighter future,” she added.
Respondents were asked to list their top three priority areas where they would like to see APRA funds spent. 43.7 percent listed housing, including assistance for families and communities facing housing insecurities that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Many respondents followed up their choice with additional comments, discussing a need for more affordable housing in the city and support for homeowners to improve their properties.
Respondents also painted a diverse picture of their priorities in the open comments section of the survey, covering topics from homelessness to road repairs and education. While some respondents called for additional funding for public safety, including payments for first responders who took on additional risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, several others stated they did not want the funds used to expand the police budget in any way.
Paul Luba, who was approved as administrator of the city’s ARPA funding by the City Council last month, said the results will be taken into consideration in the city’s plans.
“Once they’re looked at, the challenge is to come up with programs that respond to the survey results. A big choice on the survey was housing, so how can the city assist with remediating any housing disparities caused by COVID-19? That’s the challenge,” he said.
At the moment, Luba said, there are no plans to create an overall draft proposal on how the city will spend the bulk of the funds. Instead, he said, city officials plan to adopt projects as they go, beginning with a plan to repaint the city’s fire hydrants and remediate them from lead paint. Luba said members of the administration expect to present the fire hydrant project to the City Council next Monday, Sept. 13.
“There’s a lot of question right now amongst all the communities as to what’s included and what’s not included under ARPA. So when that gets clarified, then I think in the future you’ll see a more coherent action plan. Right now, there’ll be individual projects coming up that are sure to be covered under ARPA,” he said.
Luba said the responsibility for determining which projects are eligible is left primarily to the communities, as federal guidelines do not require pre-approval by federal administrators. The city, he said, is required to submit quarterly reports on how it uses the funds.
“It’s incumbent on the community to make sure they’re spending it on eligible projects,” he said.
The full survey results are available on the city website at www.woonsocketri.org .