HANSON – The Select Board met virtually with representatives of Capital Strategic Solutions of Marlborough on Tuesday, Dec. 13 to describe their services in relation to help with ARPA funds and communication strategies as the board discussed issues that had arisen during a recent strategic planning workshop.
They will return for a further discussion on the issues at the Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting to further discuss the consulting firm’s communication plan. Police Chief Michael Miksch had suggested the presentation concerning the communication aspect at the town’s recent strategic planning session.
“I love seeing the community transform when people actively become a part of their government,” said CSS CEO Nicole Figeroa is a communications specialist who ha also worked with many area communities. “Local government is a big part of everyone’s quality of life.”
Figeroa’s comment echoed an earlier comment by Select Board member Ann Rein, who expressed a preference for baby steps in the communications plan, rather than a big, over-arching thing because the residents have said enough about how bad the website is and how important it is to them to change it.
“I think that the [town’s] website and the outreach to the citizens is more important than ARPA,” Select Board member Ann Rein said. “I really, really, really want that website fixed.”
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law by President Biden in March 2021, creating the Coronavirus Local Recovery Fund aimed at helping local government pay for their efforts to contain COVID-19. Hanson is eligible to receive $3,196,672 in ARPA funds both directly and through Plymouth County.
Cities and towns have until Dec. 31, 2024 to obligate the ARPA funds and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend them. Most counties are asking that funds be obligated sooner to ensure all funds are used.
ARPA funds can be used to respond directly to the public health crisis COVID-19; assistance to households, small business and nonprofits and aid to affected industries such as tourism and travel; premium pay for essential municipal employees and offset a drop in revenue to fund government services; and to make needed investments in water, sewer and broadband internet services.
Hanson is eligible for $1,142,353 in the lost revenue category.
Figeroa stressed that the company is Massachusetts-based certified woman-owned business comprised of municipal experts specializing in public administration and municipal finance, human resources and policy development, emergency management services and public safety, public works and infrastructure operations, public relations and community engagement, project management and oversight, grant writing and administration, and onsite support services.
Town Administrator met ARPA consultant Jennifer Thompson at a Mass. Municipal Association meeting. Thompson is “very versed in ARPA and has helped many towns navigate through the complexity of ARPA,” from paperwork involved to reporting requirements and project regulations.
“She is highly recommended from other towns that have used her services,” Green said. “I think this company is going to do a great job for us.”
Thompson said the firm assists 22 municipalities with their ARPA fund administration.
“You should be cautious with this money because it is one-time money, it’s not recurring, so you want to be cautious about funding operating expenses because the money is going to go away after 2026,” Thompson said of the funds aimed at recouping lost revenue.
For that reason, she noted, ARPA funds cannot be used to fund any pension fund; pay debt on capital projects, fund settlement of judgment agreements; replenish reserve or stabilization funds or match other federal grants. But ARPA funds may be used to match state grants.
ARPA funds can be used to build infrastructure, schools or municipal facilities; modernize computer/software assets to bolster cybersecurity; health services; environmental remediation; school or educational services; public safety services or other government expenses.
Thompson said CSS could work with Hanson officials to help them spend ARPA funds not already spent.
Communications services offered help community outreach, Figeroa said, including website support services and proper use of social media.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach we use to get everyone’s attention,” she said. “We operate as an extension of the town [and] we act accordingly.”
She said they would initially work with the IT director to determine what infrastructure improvements the town might need for its communications, including the need to get town departments on the same page before building outward.
“It’s hard for me to make a decision on a company like that without having Steve [Moberg, the town’s IT director] in front of us to be able to ask him questions and expressing his concerns,” Select Board member Ed Heal said.
“In a nutshell, your services help us identify various projects that we could work on, and you’re trying to help us stretch the ARPA fund dollars as far as they could go,” Select Board member Joe Weeks said.
Thompson said that was an accurate summation and added they could help the town with it’s reporting on those expenditures to Plymouth County and the federal government.
Select Board Chair asked if CSS could help empower the town’s Capital Improvement Committee.
“It’s something we’ve been very comfortable with,” Thompson said, applauding Hanson’s foresight in that effort. ARPA funds can be used to pay for CSS’ services, which Thompson described as being provided on an on-call basis in response to a question of cost for their services from Select Board member Jim Hickey.
“Some cities and towns put a ‘not to exceed’ on there,” she said. “We could certainly do that.”
Thompson estimated Hanson would likely spend about $15,000 for that service over the next three years, based on its size and the scope of it’s need for assistance. She said the town could do not-to-exceed on a year-to-year of three-year scope of the program basis.
Figeroa said the communication service may be able to be paid for on that basis, as well.
“We don’t want to create this false sense that we’re going to have this money forever and it’s going to solve all of our many, many budget woes. It won’t,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “But we do have an opportunity to move the ball forward just a bit in some areas.”