FALL RIVER — For more than six months, Mayor Paul Coogan has been beating the drum that the US Bailout Act formula for calculating the use of funding for lost revenue is unfair, especially to the poorer communities of the Commonwealth. He also enlisted the federal delegation in his mission.
And now, a recent change in federal guidelines means the city will be able to use $10 million of its $64 million ARPA allocation to cover lost revenue.
“It gives us greater flexibility to fill in the gaps over the next two years,” Coogan said. “The US Treasury has now recognized what we were trying to tell them, that they are crippling towns and villages.”
Due to Massachusetts’ unique education and school building funding programs, cities and towns have had to include this money as part of their overall revenues.
This has hurt Fall River, which received an increase in school aid starting last year, using money from the Massachusetts Student Opportunity Act, Chapter 70. The city also received $65 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to help pay for the new BMC Durfee High School.
Budget battle: Coogan administration addresses potential budget shortfall; Ponte says the city faces financial difficulties
That standard has taken its toll on the administration’s budget, which originally included $4.5 million in ARPA funding for lost revenue during a contentious 2022 budget season with the former city council.
After notice from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the administration erased the revenue loss post and was left with the challenge of plugging the hole.
But last week, Coogan’s perseverance, along with help from area senators and congressmen, paid off, with the U.S. Treasury releasing the new guideline option for determining a community’s loss of income. with the option of $10 million to help fund government services.
Make a schedule : Fall River Mayor Announces First Projects Using $69 Million in ARPA COVID Relief Funds
“It gives everyone, statewide — and I think even nationally — the ability to use the first $10 million of their allocation. So we’re going to plug it into the best possible places after I meet with the finance team,” Coogan said. “It’s definitely huge flexibility.”
A game changer for the city
Michael Dion, executive director of the Fall River Community Development Agency, called him a big game changer for the town.
“We always said we lost revenue due to the pandemic,” Dion said.
In July, Coogan wrote a letter explaining the issue to members of the federal delegation, including Representatives Jake Auchincloss and Bill Keating and Senator Ed Markey.
Emails also went back and forth between the mayor and aides to Senator Elizabeth Warren, and in November the delegation met with US Treasury officials to advocate for change.
In December, several members of Congress wrote a letter to Janet Yellen, secretary of the Treasury Department, asking for a change in the calculation of income.
On Jan. 6, Coogan learned that the $10 million option was listed in federal ARPA guidelines.
Dion credited Coogan with making the change in earnings calculations.
Auchinclos accepted. “He had everything to do with it,” Auchincloss said, joking that Coogan could be relentless. “This is where partnerships and relationships are so important.”
Auchincloss said he was able to get a one-on-one meeting with Yellen to discuss the issue of lost revenue calculations for ARPA funding, money that was supposed to be “directly and immediately useful.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to convey that the most nimble and effective level of government in this country is local government. It’s the mayors, it’s the city councils and some boards – they’re the ones who best understand the needs of voters and can respond with the most impact.
Auchincloss said he told Yellen it was about “empowering cities and towns and mayors like Paul Coogan.”
“I think it had an impact,” added Auchincloss.
Jo C. Goode can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!