New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Town seeks approval to spend more pandemic relief funds

- By John Moritz

EAST LYME — Officials are seeking approval from residents to spend a second tranche of $126,503 from pandemic relief funds the town received as part of the American Rescue Plan — a little over a month after voters authorized the initial round of spending.

The spending plan, which will go before a public vote at a town meeting set for Oct. 6, is mostly geared to provide grants to local nonprofits and intergover­nmental organizati­ons that town leaders said had struggled during the pandemic.

Those grants include $54,638 for the Ledge Light Health District, $25,000 for the East Lyme Giving Garden, $13,950 for the American Legion, $12,500 to help purchase a pump-out boat along the Niantic River, $9,000 for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, $8,965 for the Southeaste­rn Connecticu­t Council of Government­s, and $2,000 for the New London Homeless Hospitalit­y Center, which provides aid to some East Lyme residents.

Together with an earlier round of $280,557 in spending approved at a town meeting Sept. 1, officials in East Lyme have earmarked just a fraction of the roughly $5.4 million in relief funds that the town expects to receive over the next year.

“There’s some obvious uses, enough of a need for us,” First Selectman Mark Nickerson said Wednesday when asked to describe the town’s approach toward spending the funds.

“When we heard we were getting $5 million, I had a line of people out my door looking for money,” he said.

Along with the money delivered to states and local government­s, the federal government has offered broad guidelines for how the money may be spent. Those allowable projects include direct responses to the pandemic or offering assistance to essential workers, as well as investing in infrastruc­ture projects or other general government services.

The parameters set by the federal government also prohibit municipali­ties from using the funding to cut taxes or fund pension plans.

At a school board meeting earlier this week, East Lyme Selectwoma­n Rose Ann Hardy said several projects that officials had wanted to spend the money on were determined to be out-ofbounds by attorneys advising the town’s boards of finance and selectmen.

“The list is shorter than we’d like,” Hardy told school officials. “We have many other requests [for money], so we’ll continue to work on this, as I’m sure you will be doing with your share of the funds.”

Asked about Hardy’s comments, Nickerson said officials had discussed some projects — such as purchasing new turf for football fields, hiring a grant writer or installing electric car chargers — that were determined to be questionab­le uses of American Rescue Plan funds.

Towns have up to four years to spend the money, Nickerson noted, adding that the first rounds of funding were being spent on projects and grants that were determined to be top priorities.

The Board of Selectmen in East Lyme has voted to put each of the first two rounds of spending before a town meeting and public vote. The first round of spending was approved unanimousl­y on Sept. 1.

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