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Mayor Linda Tyer announces the first round of ARPA fund grants determined by an ad hoc advisory committee.

Mayor Tyer Announces First Proposals for $20M in ARPA Funds

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer, Finance Director Matthew Kerwood and Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales attend the press briefing. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer on Wednesday outlined the proposed spending of Pittsfield's first allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds in the amount of $20 million.

''We're feeling like we've landed in a good spot for this first round of investments," Tyer said. ''And we've got a lot more work to do and we're looking forward to the way that this infusion of funds can really be transformative for our city."

In total, Pittsfield is receiving almost $41 million in ARPA funds that have to be obligated by the end of 2024 and the funds spent by 2026. The first deposit of about $20 million is already in the city’s account.

The largest sectors of investment included support for housing, health, and economic recovery.

Forty-five percent of those funds will be dedicated to supporting healthy childhoods, housing, and social determinates of health; 23 percent are dedicated to addressing negative economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and 22 percent on public health.

The remaining 10 percent of funds will be split between 5 percent revenue replacement, 3 percent infrastructure for water and sewer, and 2 percent for administration.

Tyer held a press conference Wednesday to give the media a first look at the plan and ask questions.

During this time, she announced the members of the ARPA Advisory Council she appointed: A.J. Enchill, the Rev. Joel Huntington, Sheila Irvin, Dr. Alan Kulberg, Council President Peter Marchetti, Ellen Spear, Kamaar Taliaferro, Dubois Thomas, and Brett Westbrook.

The council met for the first time last Thursday and made preliminary decisions for the disbursement of the funds. During the meeting, the panel approved a proposed first round of awards that amounted to $5.64 million.

Fifty-four percent of that number, or about $3 million, was allocated for public health with the funding for the community health outreach coordinator and public health data analyst; capital investments to Pittsfield High, Reid Middle, and Crosby Elementary schools' heating and ventilation systems; and window and heating/cooling systems upgrades at city fire stations.

The second-largest percentage will go toward healthy childhoods, housing, and social determinations of health in the amount of 29 percent, or about $1.6 million. This includes serving disproportionately impacted neighborhoods and residents in the West Side and Morningside.

With these funds, the city would like to invest in day-care programs such as the YMCA day-care upgrade and expansion; the Fenn Street homeless shelter; a second round of Tyer's At Home in Pittsfield program; and upgrades to sidewalks in the Morningside and West Side; and to seek proposals to address an increase in mental health needs and programs for youth intervention.

Eleven percent of the proposed awards, about $620,000, is dedicated to infrastructure improvements to fund the Ashley drinking water treatment facilities, dam repairs, and upgrades.

The remaining 6 percent, about $340,000, is allocated to address negative economic impacts from the pandemic that include a tourism and cultural marketing campaign, job training and funding to community organizations such as Roots Rising, and a Pittsfield-based Assets for Artists program that works with self-employed artists.

''We did review this with the advisory council last Thursday, and received consensus from them that we should proceed with the next steps in these awards," Tyer clarified.

The advisory council will meet every other week until December. When queried, Tyer said that for now, the meetings will not be open to the public so it can remain a safe space for members to openly express their opinions.

''I think that it's essential that that experience of serving on the advisory council is honored in a way that allows them to be honest and forthright with us about what they see and observe without being worried that they're being watched and questioned," she explained.

''And it's really important to me that that space is honored in a way that builds trust, that builds a sense of any one of these members can be forthright about their thoughts on any issue related to this work."

Updates will be communicated to the public and the media through Tyer herself in this format.

Council members were selected because each of them brings a specific expertise vision, Tyer said, and in a way that the city thought would be the most helpful as they work through how to make the best use of the ARPA funds.

Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews, Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer, Finance Director Matthew Kerwood, Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales, and Executive Assistant Catherine Van Bramer will serve as staff liaisons to the panel.

The staff members were also present at the press conference.

In addition, the city is anticipating hiring a special projects manager as soon as possible to be the point person for ARPA funds. Though the position has not been posted yet, Tyer said there has been interest and she is optimistic that the city will find an excellent person to fill it.

To rally community input about the funds, four single-topic public input sessions were held for public health,  economic recovery, housing and neighborhoods, and cultural organizations.

Tyer said community engagement will extend beyond these sessions and that the next advisory council meeting's agenda will identify categories for the next steps.

''One of the things they've suggested that we feel really strongly about is closing the communication loop, so in other words, we heard a lot from people in the forums, we heard from people on the surveys, that information on the website, but I think it's important that we reach back in some fashion to let the community know that they've been heard," she explained.

The group also prioritized having meetings with stakeholders and the community to gain a better insight into the needs of the community.

''Another thing that we felt strongly about that was validated by the advisory council is that we need a round of stakeholder meetings with community organizations that we believe can help us understand in a deeper way the needs of our community but also who may be able to provide a partnership in terms of funding from the American Rescue Plan," Tyer said.

''So for example, bringing together the day-care providers, bringing together the mental health-care providers, bringing together the groups, we already have a bit of a network that helps us understand and better respond to homelessness."

The city is required to report to the U.S. Department of Treasury quarterly to account for the money spent.  Kerwood said that at first, there was a deadline of Oct. 31 for the report but it has since been extended to January 2022.

Tyer said the $5.6 million of project awards in the initial round were tested against the reporting requirements and guidelines provided by the federal government.

In terms of the funds actually getting into the hands of the awardees, Tyer said there are still many steps that have to be taken.

''For the community partners or the outside organizations that we are going to be working with, I would say, we really still have to put together sort of the administrative contractual obligations to ensure that they understand what their commitments are and that they understand the reporting guide guidelines and requirements," she said.

''So we're looking at, I don't know, at least eight weeks before we're able to sort of putting those contracts in place."

On the other hand, the projects that are within the city's control may be a quicker process because of the internal systems that can help accelerate the work.

Tyer added that the Pittsfield High School construction has to be put out for bid because it is using public money.

''I would say including a couple of categories, the job training, and the day care, the projects that we've identified are projects that we were comfortable making direct allocations to based upon our background and knowledge that we had available," Ruffer explained.

''But they'll be our piloting or for seeking proposals from other organizations that might have comparable projects that serve the same need because the day care came up across the board and so this is just one way of helping that day care situation, and that's similar for the job training."

Throughout the last two weeks of City Council candidates debates, almost every candidate had offered their priorities for the funds. Though the councilors have no direct impact on the spending, Tyer said they are important resources when asked about their role.

''I think their role is actually to engage with us to tell us what they hear from their constituents, what do they understand to be the things that people value the most in the community," she said.

''They play a really important role and helping us sort of translate that and we have always had an open door to the members of the city council and welcome their insight and perspectives, so that's the role the most important role that they can play, not only for the community but for ensuring that we understand what they know."

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Pittsfield Picks Veteran Employees as ARPA Fund Managers

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two familiar faces will be serving as the city's special projects managers for the $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer and former Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong will share the one full-time position as co-managers.

Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday informed the City Council by email that Ruffer would be resigning from her current post in early to mid-February to take on this new role.

Rather than a resignation, Ruffer sees this as a transition. Armstrong resigned from her position in September, citing a need for more balance in her life and to spend more time with her family.

In the fall, the special projects manager position was created to oversee the city's allocation of ARPA funding. It will likely only be in place over the next five years, until the spending deadline in 2026, and will be paid in full through the ARPA funds.

"I am very excited to transition from the city's Community Development Director Position to co-special project manager for the City's American Rescue Plan program. This opportunity coincides with a personal desire to adjust my work-life balance to allow me to spend more time with family and pursuing personal interests," Ruffer wrote to iBerkshires in an email.

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