Danbury’s $32m in COVID relief funds could offset lost revenue, support 40 projects and programs

DANBURY — The city can target $32 million in COVID-19 relief funds toward capital projects, as well as departments and entities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Danbury’s plans for funds the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act are part of the $277.5 million operating budget proposal the mayor presented to city council on Tuesday. City Council will review and discuss the plan in committee.

Mayor Dean Esposito aims to use more than a third of that money from the law known as ARPA to make up for about $12.1 million in lost revenue due to the pandemic. It is proposing to spend $12 million on various city services and nonprofits, and another $8 million on its capital improvement plan.

“In this budget, we outline a plan to spend $20 million to support 40 projects and programs in an intelligent and strategic way that restores and builds for Danbury’s future,” Esposito said in a statement at the announcement. of his proposal. “We recognize that there are other needs that have not yet been identified and/or may arise, so there remains sufficient funds to be allocated to ensure the best outcomes for our residents.”

These funds are in addition to the $36.2 million the Board of Education has received and is using to hire staff and support other programs.

Potential projects

Esposito’s $30 million capital improvement plan includes about 100 projects, said David St. Hilaire, the city’s chief financial officer. Typically, some capital projects are partially funded or squeezed out of the plan, but federal funds have helped prevent that, he said.

“We were able to do more projects this year because of ARPA,” he told city council members during a budget workshop on Wednesday. “Some things that probably wouldn’t have been done are going to be done.”

Among the projects potentially eligible for this funding are the long-delayed renovations to the historic Richter House. The plan targets $500,000 for this project.

Some projects may be postponed for years to come, but the city may at least be able to place the necessary orders for them, St. Hilaire said.

“Now that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the next 12 months because again you can have the money but you don’t have the time and the resources or even the materials to do the job, especially with all the other things we have,” he said.

Outside of capital projects, $12 million would go to various other uses.

Of that, $5 million would go to ambulance operations, where the city projects $1.1 million in lost revenue for the coming fiscal year.

“From the impact of COVID, you’ll see that from a financial perspective, that’s the area that’s been hit the hardest,” St. Hilaire said.

The number of transports and associated revenue have declined due to COVID, while labor costs have increased, he said. The ambulance fund lost around $500,000 in 2019-20 and $600,000 in 2020-21. Losses of $1.1 million are estimated for this fiscal year.

The $5 million will be used to “sustain the fund and services” over the next six years, St. Hilaire said.

“Hopefully that will give us enough time to develop a new model, a working model,” he said. “Because right now the model we’ve been working with has worked really well for the city – it’s not working anymore.”

An additional $2.59 million would be used to pay incentives to support and retain public sector employees and rehire public sector personnel. The plan earmarks $2.5 million for losses on the big list resulting from the reduction in value of commercial properties.

City authorities, such as Tarrywile Park, the parking authority and the Danbury Museum and Historical Society, would receive $1 million. These groups lost event fees, donations, and activity-related income.

The nonprofit Housing Collective would receive $238,500 for a housing assistance program in Danbury, while United Way of Western Connecticut would receive $200,000 to help families in need.

Esposito also wants to provide $250,000 to public safety welfare programs, $220,000 to a youth summer camp program and $100,000 to public safety training programs.

The effect of COVID

The economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow over the mayor’s budget proposal, which would raise the tax rate for the first time in five years. In the budget document presented to the city council, Esposito said he wanted to “restore the city’s economic foundations to pre-pandemic status.”

COVID hospitalizations are down, vaccine rates are up, and the city’s unemployment rate is 3.5% — below the state’s rate, Esposito said. This puts the city in a “better position” than two years ago, he said.

The COVID-related shutdowns that have hurt the retail sector, in particular, have affected commercial property valuations and will affect the big list.

“Fortunately, we were very successful in resolving over seventy cases prior to the pandemic with minimal impact on the big list,” the budget document says. “The city has set aside funds to resolve tax appeals and will access ARPA funds to assist with these pandemic-induced economic calamities as necessary to minimize the collateral impact on other ratepayers.”

However, the Big City slate for October 1, 2021 increased by approximately $157.4 million, or 2%. Saint-Hilaire expects the big roster to continue to grow due to the ongoing real estate revaluation, which will affect the big roster on October 1, 2022.

The big list’s recent growth is largely due to motor vehicle taxes, St. Hilaire said.

“It’s not that we have more motor vehicles,” he told council members. “It’s because the used car market has exploded and that’s what is causing the surge. Amazing isn’t it?”

Sallie R. Loera