Marblehead debuts ARPA-spending plan, resembles rolling grant program

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Marblehead’s American Rescue Plan Act spending plan resembles a rolling grant program that a state agency or nonprofit might facilitate.

And on Wednesday night, the Select Board signed off on nearly $1 million from the $6.1 million pool of federal money awarded to Marblehead to help finance a handful of projects:

  • $150,000, administrative ARPA implementation staffing support
  • $5,700, equip Marblehead Public Schools meeting spaces with hybrid technology
  • $584,142, Reduction in revenue amount funding
  • $6,311, information-booth supplemental funding
  • $200,000, mental health treatment and supports

Marblehead has about $5 million left and about two years to spend ARPA. Congress passed the spending package to help state and local entities respond to the COVID-19’s public health and economic impacts.

The approved expenditures represent the first batch approved since a working group of eight people developed the “prioritization criteria” guiding Select Board members’ decision-making on where to direct ARPA funds. Unlike most funding and budgetary matters, spending of ARPA funds do not need approval from Marblehead Town Meeting, where power of the purse lies.

The working group, using the criteria, rank and recommend the spending proposals with priority placed on and in the following order:

“Requests were solicited from department heads and residents at large to determine any of the town’s project funding needs that were impacted by the COVID-19,” wrote officials in a ARPA spending plan presentation. “A community survey was developed, [and] 344 Marblehead residents responded with their thoughts on the use of the funds.”

Outreach and survey responses resulted in 72 projects, cumulatively worth $18 million, submitted by town employees and the public at large.

“We saw that there was a 60 percent overlap between those projects that the residents survey preferred and the ones that the ARPA group picked,” said the Select Board’s chairman, Moses Grader said. “So that was a fairly strong alignment between the survey preference and the ranking methodology that we use. So we were very, very pleased to see that it was 60 percent.”

The federal government bars the town from spending ARPA funds on filling regular deficits, hiring new staff, or add-ons to existing programs, unless those new programs, add-ons, or staffers only exist for the life of the ARPA money – which is three years.

“We have gotten a few additional requests to run through the process,” said Marblehead Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer, adding the town want to be thoughtful about how it spends the one-time funds. “Part of the reason for all this was not to run in and allocate $6 million and be done.”

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