Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019
Affecting cites, towns under 250,000 

-- Adam Chapdelaine

ARPA could stand for Arlington Relief Payments Accepted.

Efforts by Deputy Town Manager Sandy Pooler, in concert with state and national organizations, have resulted in allowing Arlington to claim as much as $10 million in losses tied to federal rescue funds, called ARPA.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine explained at the Jan. 10 Select Board meeting that the ARPA rules have changed. Cities and towns with a population under 250,000 can now claim up to $10 million in losses without revenue justification. This gives Arlington more flexibility to apply these funds to the general fund, reducing the impending shortfall and providing a better result for the town.

Chapdelaine clarified Jan. 18 that "Sandy's efforts were a significant part of the advocacy work to get Treasury to amend their regulations," but the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the National League of Cities helped bring about this beneficial change. See Pooler's letter here >> 

ARPA is a federal law that enables state and local governments to cover temporary operating shortfalls and enhance financial stability until economic conditions and operations normalize.

Pooler's letter

How did the $10 million benefit come about? Pooler's letter explains his argument.

"Because of an anomaly in how municipalities in Massachusetts assess certain property taxes," he wrote to the U.S. Treasury last July 2, "many communities are at risk of not having any revenue loss, notwithstanding the fact that we have large shortfalls in many of our local receipt accounts. I suggest clarification to allow communities to remove from revenue consideration Debt Exclusion revenue.

"In Massachusetts, town or city votes can approve Debt Exclusions, referendum votes that increase the tax levy (total taxes a municipality can raise) to pay for the debt service for bonds issued for capital projects. The Debt Exclusions tax increases match the annual debt service payments, run for as long as municipalities are repaying the debt, and then drop from tax bills.

"In my town, Arlington, MA, town voters approved a several Debt Exclusions for constructing or repairing new schools. The town has issued a series of bonds to pay for the construction projects, and taxes have risen proportionately each year to make the annual bond payments. The Debt Exclusion increase can be used only to repay debt and is not otherwise available to fund governmental functions."

He provided a table showing debt exclusions added to Arlington’s tax base:

FY19  $4,772,602

FY20  $4,928,109

FY21  $7,744,595

FY22  $10,300,555

"The Town of Arlington experienced drops in many other revenue sources, such as meals tax, hotel tax, motor vehicle excise tax, recreation fees, and others, but those drops are substantially wiped out by the increase in Debt Exclusion revenue. Unless the Debt Exclusions are eliminated from Arlington’s tax calculation, the Town will lose approximately $4 million in ARPA funding."

Pooler, who is also the finance director, pointed out that the files its revenue figures with the state on Schedule A and state forwards that information to the Census Bureau, but Schedule A does not break out the debt-exclusion amounts. However, each city and town in Massachusetts must annually file a DE-1 form with the state when the municipalities report their tax rates for state approval each autumn. The DE-1 form is a list of all debt exclusions on that year’s tax bills.

"I suggest that the Interim Rule be clarified to eliminate the calculation of Debt Exclusions from the definition of general revenue, specifically to allow municipalities to deduct the excluded debt listed on the DE-1 from the total tax revenue towns report to the state each year."

Two major expenditures OK'd

In actions taken Jan. 10 related to ARPA, but not Pooler's advocacy, the Select Board approved federal funds for two Arlington expenditures -- equity-and-outreach and water-and-sewer infrastructure.

Arlington plans to conduct a one-year, $100K comprehensive equity audit.

This audit will “identify barriers to access for community members, including language and communication needs for residents, and provide a road map toward Arlington being a more equitable community,” Jillian Harvey, the town’s diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) director, wrote in an email to Chapdelaine.

At the meeting, Harvey said, “This will be a huge help to make sure that everything the town has to offer is accessible to all community members.”

The town will also hire a community outreach and engagement coordinator to conduct this equity work, during this time of pandemic recovery. This three-year position is anticipated to begin at the start of FY23 with an annual $55K salary, as described in Harvey’s email.

Chapdelaine said, “We’re continuing years of work that the town is committed to with DEI. I endorse the use of ARPA funds for this equity audit and funding for a community outreach liaison to reach out to the marginalized populations in Arlington regarding DEI.”

“This is a good use for ARPA funds,” said board member John Hurd.

Board member Len Diggins said, “I’m thrilled to see this. It does everything that I’d want it to do, especially beginning with an audit so we can start with a baseline.”

“This is walking the walk, and I’m beyond thrilled that we have the resources to do it. This is the hard work of equity. We’ll learn things from the audit that are challenging and difficult, and need to confront with open eyes and hearts. The pandemic has shown us that we’re all in the same storm, but different boats, with impacts far greater for some than others,” said board member Eric Helmuth.

Water, sewer infrastructure

Arlington plans to spend $742,000 to replace its water meters.

“The town is currently undergoing a system-wide meter replacement program. We have completed 9,000 of 12,000 meters. The last locations are the most difficult as they are the resistant customers,” wrote Michael Rademacher, director of public works, in a memo to Chapdelaine.

Rademacher’s memo also outlined the estimated costs: $405,000 to purchase the meters, and $337,000 to install the meters (labor and consultant help).

Chapdelaine said that Arlington had already approved $1.6 million for water meter reading. 

Watch the whole Jan. 10 meeting on ACMi:

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This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Bob Sprague contributed to this report.