FALL RIVER – Mayor Paul Coogan said on Tuesday he was so impressed with the public’s comments on how the city should spend planned $ 70 million in federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act that he will probably organize other public forums.
On Monday evening, about 75 people, including representatives from the arts, homelessness and addiction prevention, and others advocating for more youth programming, gathered at Our Lady of Light Band and Banquet Facility on Quarry Street for a meeting hosted by the Coogan administration.
Not everyone came up with ideas for how best to use the flow of money. Some people wanted more information on federal bailout funding, which Financial Services Director Mary Sahady provided in a PowerPoint presentation at the start of the 90-minute forum.
Others shared their ideas with the 11-member ARPA task force, a group assembled by Coogan as a sort of think tank on federal funding spending.
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“I like what I heard say last night. It was very positive. They were there and they were prepared. They came up with ideas, and that’s what we wanted. I loved it, ”Coogan said.
The money must be spent on projects and programs until December 2024, and according to specific guidelines.
A survey asked participants to rate a list of possible project categories in order of importance, and included an opportunity to write down their specific project ideas.
While Coogan opened the public forum on Monday, he left shortly after for a school committee meeting. He said he watched a video of the meeting and reviewed the polls.
Patrick Norton, executive director of the Narrows Center for the Arts and a member of the Fall River Arts and Culture Coalition, lobbied for funding for the arts in Fall River. He said it would be difficult to find another industry that was hit harder during the pandemic than the arts and culture industry, which he said is also affecting economic development.
“Most of the sites had to be shut down for 14 to 16 months with no income at all, so I think that fits into ARPA funding,” Norton said.
Norton said he would like to see a credit of ARPA funds split evenly among the various arts organizations in the city.
Patti Rego, district manager of Viva Fall River – an initiative supporting small business, arts and culture, and community involvement – said she was seeking seed money for the new organization for a three to five year campaign. for “revitalization, tourism and arts and culture” which would depend on matching funds.
“That’s what I mean by an investment in Fall River,” Rego said.
John Ferland made the audience laugh when he stepped onto the podium to express his ideas.
“I think you’re going to get an idea of what I’m going to stand up for, given my last name,” said Ferland, the father of Paul Ferland, the city’s director of public services.
Spending on water and sewer infrastructure is permitted under ARPA.
In recent months, the city has experienced flooding, sewer issues and drainage issues.
“This is not a new problem. This is a problem that has existed for years. Go back to the CSO agenda in the 1980s, when the CSO agenda was pushed to our throats by the Conservation Law Foundation. The government has never given us a dime. We went to Congress and we cried and we begged. We had to pay for these systems and they never paid us a dime, ”Ferland said. “The reason our prices are so high now is because we have to pay for these systems.”
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Ferland said that about five years ago, the water and sewer department created a $ 123 million plan to deal with flooding in the city.
“So I think a good chunk of that money should go to the water and sewer projects that Mr Ferland might come up with,” said the elder Ferland.
Councilor Trott Lee made a similar speech to give the lion’s share of ARPA money to water and sewer projects, to give taxpayers a break.
Alcohol and drug recovery advocate and advocate Rene Brown suggested that ARPA money help fund grassroots and other recovery and prevention organizations that don’t. not nonprofit or 501 (c) (3) status.
She also expressed support for the city’s many active neighborhood associations that could help with awareness raising and legal assistance for families who have lost loved ones to COVID but struggled to maneuver the system during. the pandemic.
Al Lima, a local historian and former city planner who gave his name to the city’s Quequechan River rail trail, proposed that ARPA funding could be used to fund the design phases of the Mount Hope Greenway. and the greenway of the south pond of Watuppa.
“We don’t have those funds, and that’s what we really need – and the city doesn’t have those funds to make that happen,” Lima said.
Jo C. Goode can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!