IBAC holds public forum to discuss use of federal Covid-19 relief funds

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The original Intra-Board Advisory Committee (IBAC) was established to study matters of common interest and promote efficiency between the Boards of Selectmen and Education. A modified IBAC was established in January 2022 to specifically study topics of importance for the town as determined by the First Selectman, the first of which has been the use of the federal Covid-19 funds.

As with the original IBAC, it is an advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Board of Selectmen; it does not set policy. The group met monthly starting in January and composed a chart of projects deemed appropriate for this money. The chart, which was published on May 4, can be seen online at the granby-ct.gov page (click “government, public documents”) and in the May 16 BOS meeting packet (which may be accessed at the same location).

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law in March 2021, guaranteeing relief to cities, towns and villages in the United States. Granby’s share of this money is $3,405,503. The first payment was received in June 2021; the balance will be received in June 2022.

The funds can be used to respond to public health emergencies; provide premium pay for essential workers; provide government services (schools, roads, town staff, fire, and police services, e.g.) to the extent of revenue lost due to Covid-19; and make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. The funds cannot be used to: match funds for other federal grants; pay down unfunded pension liabilities; pay down interest or principal on outstanding debt; pay legal settlements; pay for telework; contribute to rainy day funds. The funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024, and used by December 31, 2026.

The modified IBAC held a public forum on May 23 to get residents’ thoughts on the use of the federal Covid-19 funds. First Selectman Mark Fiorentino led the discussion. He was joined by the other members of the IBAC, Sarah Thrall and James Tsaptsinos. School Superintendent Jordan Grossman and Town Manager Erica Robertson, ex-officio members, were also present.

Fiorentino began by describing the projects the committee has determined suitable for the funding. The first 10 projects on the list are considered the most important by the committee; the remaining 25 are not necessarily presented in order of importance and may not be in the final list of obligations. Projects among the first 10 include allowing portions of Kearns School to be open to town use, library and town hall renovations, communication upgrades for the police department and enhancing the town’s ability to stream and/or broadcast public meetings in multiple locations.

When questioned about the efficacy of re-opening parts of Kearns, Fiorentino said that it is just being studied now, but that there are two areas (the multi-purpose room and another “isolated” portion) that are in good shape and could be used by town entities in need of extra space. For example, both the senior center and the library could offer more programs if they had more room.

Mark Neumann was the first member of the public to speak, thanking the committee for their hard work in making the extensive list. He specifically was in favor of senior center upgrades and noted that other funds may be available for certain projects, which would allow projects listed lower in the chart to be moved up.

 Representing the Granby Ambulance Association (GAA), Steve Worley questioned some of the recreational items and emphasized that the GAA is in desperate need of a new ambulance. He noted the Association is chronically underfunded in the annual budget. He also asked that the various projects that are funded be monitored as the work proceeds.

Glenn Ballard was opposed to using the Covid-19 funds for any of the HVAC projects. Fiorentino specifically asked those present if there were any objections to proposals 1, 4 and 6, which involve improvements in the HVAC of the high school, Wells Road School and the town hall campus. There were no objections. Ballard also wants an explanation of the process going forward.

Bob Flanigan also spoke of the Ambulance Association’s need for funding for a new ambulance. He asked that the committee prioritize such funding. He also asked if the HVAC projects would be done all at once or could the schools and the town go out separately for bids. It was thought that separation might be possible.

Lori DiBattista asked whether the committee had mapped out the engineering needs for the HVAC systems. As a former engineer, she explained how they need to be properly designed to accommodate the size of the area they are meant to serve. Fiorentino replied that they would make that recommendation to the BOS.

Fiorentino noted that he had forwarded Sarah Langdon’s email comments to the rest of the committee as she had requested.

Committee member Tsaptsinos noted that any money left over from a particular project will go to fund other projects on the list.

Fiorentino closed by saying that the committee will consider the evening’s input at its next meeting before making the final plan, but that it is important to get started on the first five projects because the entire country is doing the same thing as Granby and time is of the essence.

Update: At the June 6 BOS meeting, the board voted to recommend that the list of projects be divided into three phases. Phase One: projects to receive initial focus, with staff being authorized to finalize the scope of each project and to obtain cost commitments /bids. These projects will then be presented to the BOS for final approval before any funds are expended. Phase Two: projects that will be considered once final cost estimates are set for those approved in Phase One. These Phase Two projects will be prioritized, processed and authorized as funds allow. Phase Three: projects that will be considered only if funds are available after those in the first two phases are fully vetted and authorized.

To access the IBAC chart visit: granby-ct.gov/home/pages/public-documents