CHICOPEE — The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) committee continued discussions on the use of federal funds at its Feb. 1 meeting.
Mayor John Vieau began the meeting by announcing a recommendation to allocate $10 million to next year’s Free Cash Account. He described the decision as one that will reward the city’s flexibility, as the funds would not be limited to ARPA-related issues. James Tillotson, ARPA committee member and At-Large advisor, echoed the mayor’s sentiments, pointing out that the allocated funds were a potential avenue to address different issues across the city.
The mayor’s recommendation was unanimously approved by the committee.
Kathleen Lingenberg, Community Development Administrator, spoke about her research on using funds to strengthen community policing. Although she discovered that the project would not be eligible for ARPA, she noted the effort as a project that can be supplemented by the additional general funds.
Vieau agreed that increasing policing remains paramount for Chicopee. “We are committed to community policing,” Vieau said. He stressed that building positive relationships between the police and the public is paramount as the department continues to build a full complement of officers.
Merit bonuses have also become a central topic of discussion. Instead of staggering merit pay based on employment status, the mayor talked about a more balanced distribution of funds. “I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the hard work of all employees… Our goal here at Chicopee is to retain talent,” Vieau said.
Chief of Staff Michael Pisa has also suggested the idea of offering a wage bonus to vaccinated workers in the city. While town talks were speculation, Tillotson saw the idea as a promising way to encourage vaccinations. “I think it’s an incentive, the money talks,” Tillotson said.
Department of Public Works (DPW) Superintendent Elizabette Batista stressed that infrastructure repairs should be a critical aspect of ARPA funds. She discussed the South Fairview sewer project, pipe repairs and expansion of current DPW projects as key areas requiring financial support.
The ARPA committee then discussed avenues for economic development and support for non-profit organizations. Vieau said job growth and employee training remain his primary goals, sharing that his administration remains focused on securing private businesses that will infuse viable new positions into the city. The committee also said it intends to use ARPA funds to support nonprofits like the Polish Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Chicopee, which have applied for funds for losses caused by the pandemic.
The ARPA committee will meet again on February 22.