More than 20 people attended the first in a series of public meetings held Saturday at the Cranston …
More than 20 people attended the first in a series of public meetings held Saturday at the Cranston Library on how the city should spend $42.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The meeting was hosted by Council member John Donegan and Jessica Marino who with Council Vice President Robert Ferri co-sponsored a resolution calling for the workshops to engage the public in “meaningful dialogue “ on how the money should be spent. In addition the resolution calls for a report to the Council prioritizing the highest and best use of the funds.
“This is a significant amount of money. An unprecedented amount of nearly 42.6 million dollars that must be designated to directly benefit our community in a way that is consistent with the federal guidance. The federal government has made it abundantly clear that the allocation and spending of ARPA funds involves community input,” said Marino. “ Frankly the vital importance of community input is a matter of common sense from my perspective. We, as elected officials, represent the public and what better way to determine the needs of our community than to provide as many opportunities as we can to hear directly from the public that we serve as to particular areas of need within our community.”
Ferri, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting due to the flu said in a statement “I am pleased that the Resolution to hold Community meetings and give the public a say in how the money is to be spent passed the full council 9-0. I am grateful to John and Jessica for holding the meeting at the library.”
Along with the two councilors, he enlisted the help of Cranston Forward to draft and pass the resolution.
“This is a major bipartisan accomplishment brought forth by the council,” said Ferri. “Hopefully we will be able to take the information we gather and partner with the administration and use it to best help everyone in the city.”
Ferri said that they would have at least two formal meetings in the Council chambers with Zoom access so people can participate remotely as well. Those meeting dates haven’t been set yet. Last week’s meeting was an additional way for Councilors to learn about the thoughts of community members regarding the City’s spending of the APRA fund.
Donnegan said since being elected to the Council in 2019, he has hosted informal community meetings regularly.
“I have found it a productive means to have conversations and build trust amongst neighbors that we can collectively find solutions to the issues facing our City. I wanted to take that same community-centered, bottom-up approach to this opportunity.”
It was explained during the meeting by Donnegan and Marino that currently there are five areas in which the funds can be spent.
- Support public health expenditures, by, for example, funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and certain public health and safety staff.
- Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harm to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector.
- Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic.
- Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.
- Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand access to broadband internet.
Also in attendance for the meeting was Cranston’s Budget Analyst David DiMaio. He pointed out to the community members in attendance that the regulations on how and what the funds can be spent on haven’t been finalized by the federal government yet.
DiMaio said what they do know so far is that they have until 2024 to allocate the funds and until 2026 for it to be spent. He said that there isn’t a timeline of when the federal regulations will be finalized.
Cranston Forward in addition to helping with the resolution regarding the public meetings has been soliciting feedback from the community to see how they want the City to allocate the funds.
Last spring the organization conducted a survey which generated responses from 63 community members.
Michael Beauregard, the treasurer of the organization on Monday said that the highest priorities where community members want to see relief funds spent to help communities recover, includes.
- Primary health care and behavioral healthcare
- Relief aid to small and/or local businesses to reopen and recover lost revenue
- Building or preserving of affordable and workforce housing
- Putting city residents back to work
- Early Childhood Education
- Green Energy and Environmental Sustainability
- Vaccine Sites
Sheila Resseger, who has lived in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston for 43 years, made a pitch for why the City should utilize part of the funds on broadband infrastructure.
“I am particularly focused on how the funds will be utilized in support of broadband infrastructure i.e. for reliable and affordable broadband access. Gaps in coverage and unaffordable access are serious problems. What needs to be understood is that the superior way for households and businesses to connect to the internet is via wired connections Fiber to the Premises and not wireless connections such as those coming from so called “small cell” antennas on utility/light poles outside people’s homes,” said Resseger during the meeting.
“Wired connections are safe, faster than wireless, reliable (don’t go down in a power outage), much less vulnerable to hacking, do not enable surveillance, and are the most energy efficient means to accomplish universal broadband,” she went on to say. “My group, 5G Free RI, has many resources and materials explaining these issues, and I am looking forward to providing this information to the City Council when the public meetings are held.”
Following the meeting Donnegan said he was pleased about how it went.
“Today’s meeting went great,” he said. “My takeaway from today’s meeting is that there is broad consensus to utilize APRA funds to address our City’s housing crisis. Housing is a human right and we can leverage these funds to help make that a reality for every family in Cranston.”
Donnegan said that plan is to have other informal meetings regarding ARPA spending but the meetings haven’t been scheduled at this time.
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