PITTSFIELD — The majority of people who took a city survey on how to spend American Rescue Plan Act money coming to the city support using that money for economic assistance to businesses, nonprofits and the self-employed and are least interested in backfilling lost city revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic.
More than $40 million is headed to Pittsfield in federal coronavirus relief money. On Friday, the city released the results of its monthlong online survey, which was conducted in August and taken by almost 1,200 participants — or about 3 percent of the population of Pittsfield.
“I’m so proud that so many people have been engaged in this process already,” Mayor Linda Tyer said.
While some residents have argued in recent weeks about the efficacy of the survey, the number of respondents and the survey questions’ ability to create an accurate image of what all Pittsfield residents value when it comes to ARPA spending, Tyer said she felt that the online survey created a good first look at “community sentiments.”
“When you combine the community forums and what we learned in those sessions and what we learned from the survey, I think we have a good starting point [to understand community sentiments]” Tyer said.
Comparing 2019 American Community Survey estimates to the demographics of survey participants shows an underrepresentation of several groups: renters, male residents, residents with a disability and residents older than 75.
Race demographics for the survey were skewed by 141 people who chose not to identify their race, but Asian American, Black or African American residents and white residents were underrepresented in the survey.
Residents from Ward 4 and Ward 3, on the city’s southeast side, were overrepresented in the survey.
Tyer said that the results of the survey and feedback from four community forums hosted by the city on public health and human services, economic recovery, housing and neighborhoods, and tourism and cultural organizations, will be vital in instructing a soon-to-be-formed ARPA advisory committee and a new special project manager position.
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City officials asked survey participants to rank their preferences for spending within categories established by the Treasury Department.
Participants of the survey said that they would prefer that the city prioritize economic assistance to businesses, nonprofits and the self-employed when spending its ARPA money.
Lowest on the list of survey takers’ priorities was backfilling lost city revenue related to the pandemic.
The Treasury Department has told municipalities that they can use ARPA money to cover a calculated lost revenue amount.
Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said the initial revenue-loss calculation for Pittsfield came to about $2.33 million.
Within this category, most of the survey participants said that financial assistance to small businesses and the self-employed, and job skill development projects, should top the list of any business projects the city pursues.
While economic projects topped survey takers’ priorities for ARPA spending, only a slight majority, about 51 percent of survey participants, said they worked in the city.
About 38 percent of survey participants said they were employed full time in Pittsfield. About 7 percent said they were self-employed, about 6 percent said they worked part time in the city and about 3 percent said they were unemployed.
When it came to ranking potential ARPA-funded resident assistance projects, survey participants prioritized meeting immediate needs for food and shelter.
The American Community Survey results from 2019 show that about 13 percent of residents were living in poverty before the pandemic. At a recent community forum on ARPA spending related to neighborhoods and housing, residents said that population has grown even as supports have been eaten away by the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The Morningside and West Side neighborhoods have been highlighted by the city as areas that might have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, because of the level of poverty in the area. Despite the potential for spending in the area, the city saw low participation on the survey from the wards encompassing the neighborhoods.
About 180 people who took the survey identified as residents of Wards 2 or 6.
Almost 60 percent of survey takers said the first public health project city officials should prioritize is additional mental health, substance abuse and behavioral health supports.
A consistent theme through the city forums on ARPA spending was the mental health impact of the pandemic. During the forums, residents said they see existing mental health concerns exacerbating problems around employment, housing, health and school.
The results of a question on the type of infrastructure projects Pittsfield should support with ARPA money showed a clear prioritization for better drinking water infrastructure.
In Pittsfield, six surface reservoirs provide drinking water to residents. In the latest consumer confidence report, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection categorized the water system at a “high” susceptibility to contamination, and the department also commended the city on “promoting measures to protect our potable water supply sources.”
The report found that while there was lead, copper and 18 other regulated contaminants in city water, none of the contaminants levels was high enough to pose a risk to residents’ health.