PITTSFIELD — Major repairs and updates to the city's Ashley Water Treatment Plant, upgrades to the Berkshire Family YMCA's child care center, and a second round of funding for the At Home in Pittsfield renovation project are the big-ticket items earmarked by city officials for money from federal coronavirus aid.
The projects are part of an updated plan added to the city's website last week to spend $7.35 million of the city's initial $20.3 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act program. While largely aligned with the plan released by Mayor Linda Tyer in October — that plan came in around $5.64 million — rising building and labor costs have shifted money significantly toward infrastructure funding.
As for the remaining $12.95 million from the first disbursement of federal money from ARPA, city officials told stakeholders during several forums recently that they are giving priority to projects that respond to public health needs, reduce the negative economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and help support disproportionately impacted communities in Pittsfield's Morningside and West Side neighborhoods.
Newly named co-special projects managers Gina Armstrong and Deanna Ruffer told stakeholders invited to five forums recently that they want to promote "collaboration," not "competition," in the process that lies ahead.
In January, the city will send out invitations for proposals related to childhood development and youth intervention, mental health and substance use disorders, veterans and disabled and elderly residents, community-based initiatives and cultural organizations.
The city will begin accepting applications in February on a rolling basis. The applications will be reviewed by a yet-to-be-formed evaluation committee, which will include, at least in part, members of the mayor's internal investment team, according to Armstrong.
The team will grade each proposal on its ability to meet eight criteria categories:
- Applicant is located in or serves the Morningside and/or West Side neighborhood(s) or is led by or primarily serves people of color, immigrants, residents with disabilities or veterans;
- Fosters partnership and collaboration;
- Targets investment in or to residents of Morningside, West Side or downtown, including people of color and immigrants;
- Addresses a physical or social determinant of health;
- Is a one-time investment or can reasonably be expected to be financially sustainable;
- Brings a nuanced change to an existing program or introduces a new approach to addressing an identified community need;
- Addresses a need that is supported by community-based data and/or community engagement;
- Addresses an identified and documented systemic gap or flow in existing policies, programming or program delivery to target underlying inequity.
Ruffer said during the stakeholder forums that in the city's first round of money, the city won't be financing broadband projects, premium pay, or additional affordable housing projects.
Mayor Linda Tyer selected familiar faces in Deanna Ruffer, the Community Development director, and Gina Armstrong, the former Health Department director, to oversee the city's use of almost $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act money.
“The state is proposing to dedicate [money] to affordable housing development,” Ruffer said during the forum. “We have been working with a number of developers, but we do see those [projects] likely being addressed in the second round more than the first round.”
City officials have promised to try and get each proposal graded and evaluated within 30 to 45 days after it is submitted.
A new set of priorities
The city's new "investment priorities" are a product of the nine-person advisory council assembled by Tyer in October to advise her on the most equitable use of the once-in-a-lifetime money.
The mayor's nine-person ARPA advisory council, which has met in private since its formation, spent the past month creating guiding principals, goals, strategies and the evaluation criteria to ensure that the federal money makes its way to those who need it most in Pittsfield.
The group called the money a "once-in-a-lifetime infusion of funds that can transform Pittsfield into a city of social and economic resiliency for everyone, especially for people who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by racial inequity and generational poverty."
Officials now know how they'd like to spend $5.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money: Infrastructure projects that improve public health in city buildings, two new public health positions and support for daycare programs, the Fenn Street Shelter and another round of grants for homeowner projects.
In October, Tyer said that $5.64 million of the first tranche of money had been set aside for about $338,0000 to combat the negative impacts to tourism and cultural industries, $600,000 for repairs to the Ashley water treatment facility, about $1.63 million for programs around healthy childhoods and housing, and about $3.04 million to public health projects.
An updated plan added to the city's website last week shows that planned allocations to public health and healthy childhood projects have decreased as infrastructure costs have shot up.
“It's an important project that affects everyone in the community, this infrastructure for clean water — safe water,” Armstrong said.
The Ashley water treatment facility in Dalton is one of two treatment facilities used to provide clean water to Pittsfield. The facility now is set to receive about $4.70 million in ARPA money from the city's first installment.
“It was initially estimated that an additional $2.8 million in ARPA funds would be needed [for the project], but, unfortunately, back in October, the reported value of this first round of ARPA investments understated that funding need,” Armstrong said.
“In addition to that, when bids were received in early December, the funding gap increased to $4.5 million,” Armstrong said. “So, the mayor approved funding this gap with the ARPA funds, rather than increasing the amount of the bond funding required for this project."
Armstrong said that a public health capital investment project the city had prepared to pay for with $2.24 million has been delayed and now will be covered by the second allocation of ARPA money — set to reach city coffers this coming spring.
The only public health capital investment project the city had announced was upgrades to the heating and ventilation systems at Pittsfield High School, Reid Middle School and Crosby Elementary School.
The money freed up through the delay of that project has been reallocated, in part, to the Ashley facility project to cover rising building and labor costs, rather than increase the city's bond for the project, which already sits at $5.2 million.