Money, money, money.
As the federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, rolls out across the nation, one thing is becoming clear: “There’s a lot of money going around.”
So says Brian Chirichiello, who serves on both the three-person Rockingham County Board of Commissioners as well as the seven-person Derry Town Council.
He is in a unique position as the county commissioners will oversee the spending of $60 million in funding from the Rescue Plan, while the Town Council will oversee the spending of $3.2 million.
Meanwhile, Derry schools will be eligible for $3.5 million.
The big unknown — he and other city, town and school officials on both sides of the border say — is how to use it.
“There are a lot of questions,” he said. “We are trying to get guidance on what we are allowed to use it for.”
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is in the same boat: More questions than answers about how to use that city’s allotment of $38 million in Rescue Plan funds.
“The United States Department of the treasury is charged with adopting new guidance and regulations about this,” he said. “We expect that within about 30 days.”
According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the use of the money is restricted to four general areas: Response to the public health emergency or its negative economic consequences; provision of premium pay to eligible workers (as designated by the local chief municipal official); revenue replacement (relative to fiscal 2019 local revenue figures); investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Chirichiello said that kind of vague direction is concerning to county commissioners across the state.
“A lot of counties are nervous if they spend the money on something, and through an audit the federal government will come back and say, ‘That’s not what the money was supposed to be used for,’” he said.
As a result, it’s kind of a wait-and-see game.
“We’ll get the money, and then look for guidance from Washington on what to do,” he said.
Plaistow Town Administrator Mark Pearson agreed it is a waiting game at this point. The community, with a population of 8,000, is due to receive $760,000 under the relief plan.
“The devil’s in the details on how to use it,” he said. “I don’t know at this point what I can use it for. I’m interested to know. This is something that’s not normal. The fact is, I don’t think any of us know.”
School districts may be in a better situation in terms of information on how they can use the money they are getting from the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER — the education portion of the federal Rescue Plan.
Derry Cooperative School District Business Administrator Jane Simard said the money coming to the district — about $3.5 million — could be used for anything COVID-related, such as maintenance work on roofing and insulation, air quality, the purchase of classroom furniture, technology, student services, additional staff and added counseling and mental health support.
Money could also be spent on footwear and clothing for underserved students in the district, she said. Derry also plans a summer learning program for students who may need extra assistance with core subjects like math and reading.
“There are a lot of things you can do,” Simard said. “We certainly are not rushing to spend all these funds. We want to make sure we work to use that money the most wisely.”
Several officials spoke about how they hope to use the money on water and sewer projects.
Derry Town Administrator David Caron said the community is preparing to learn as much as possible about how to spend the funding once it’s available.
“We’ve been participating in seminars to learn more about the allowable uses for the funds, however, we do not expect the U.S. Treasury to issue final rules until four to six weeks from now,” Caron said.
He added Derry will find good uses for the additional support.
“We will be able to use funds to replenish revenues lost to the town due to the economic impacts resulting from the pandemic,” Caron said. “Other uses include water, wastewater and broadband infrastructure, as well as potential assistance to the business community.”
Derry begins its annual budget process this week and Caron said more discussion on this funding will follow.
Reporters Julie Huss and Mike LaBella contributed to this story.