The village of Brookfield will receive close to $2.5 million in federal funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed into law by President Joe Biden in February to assist local municipalities across the country recover from the financial fallout resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With $1.24 million of that money remitted to Brookfield in September and the second installment expected to be disbursed in early 2022, trustees have begun discussing just how those dollars will be spent.
During an initial discussion of how to spend ARPA funds during the village board’s Oct. 11 meeting, trustees indicated they’d like to see some of the money directly benefit residents and local businesses as well as help fund some big-ticket items that qualify. The money could also be used to pursue capital projects that align with the 2021 Climate Action Plan recently endorsed by trustees.
“This is the one and only time we’re going to get this money, so leveraging it to get the most done and the best bottom line impact [is key],” said Village President Michael Garvey. “Doing things just for show can be attractive … but we can only do this once, and we have to see how we can get the most out of it.”
There are strings attached to the ARPA funds in that there are some things the money cannot be used for, including simply placing it into a general cash reserve fund or making police and fire pension contributions. It also can’t be used to pay debt service or legal settlements.
ARPA funds also cannot be used for general infrastructure projects, such as road or bridge improvements and it can’t be used as a local match for federal grants. ARPA funds must be spent by 2024.
Because ARPA funds can be used toward public safety operations, trustees appeared to support a recommendation from village staff to use at least some of the money to pay for a new fire department ladder truck/pumper vehicle and perhaps a new ambulance.
Brookfield won a federal FEMA grant in the amount of $800,000 to buy the ladder/pumper engine, which will replace two of the oldest engines in the Brookfield Fire Department’s fleet.
The new vehicle, known as a quint, comes at an estimated $1.2 million. The village of Brookfield’s required local match is $31,000, leaving the village about $370,000 to cover. ARPA funds could be used to pay for the balance, according to Finance Director Doug Cooper, or the village could seek a short-term bank loan to finance the debt.
The fire department also has identified the older of its two ambulances for replacement in the next couple of years. A new ambulance is expected to cost around $275,000, and the village could use ARPA funds to pay for that purchase, which is scheduled in 2023.
The newer of the department’s ambulances was purchased in 2017 and financed through a bank loan.
However, trustees also expressed interest in other uses for ARPA funds that would more directly help residents and businesses.
Trustee Jennifer Hendricks suggested earmarking an unspecified amount of money to help local businesses as they continue to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic to further economic development.
She also suggested using some funds to help defray or eliminate the cost to homeowners of installing copper water lines from their home to the B-box. Most water service lines connecting to homes are lead, and in January a new state law mandated the eventual replacement of all lead water service lines.
“It would be nice to perhaps be able to use those funds to offset that, so residents aren’t having to come up with all of that,” Hendricks said.
Other trustees, including Katie Kaluzny and Edward Cote, supported setting aside some ARPA funds to restart a residential flood-mitigation program, where the village would reimburse homeowners for up to 50 percent of the cost of installing flood control measures, such as check valves or overhead sewers.
Brookfield initiated such a program following devastating flooding in 2013, and the program proved popular and the village earmarked at least $300,000 in village matching funds to assist homeowners between 2013 and 2015.
“It seems like this would be an opportunity … but it also aligns with the climate plan we discussed [and endorsed on Sept. 27],” Kaluzny said.
Cote said reviving the flood-mitigation program would provide tangible help to Brookfield taxpayers.
“I think that’s a great aspect of helping out the community with the money received without handing out and pandering to them by giving them 20 bucks,” Cote said. “The 50/50 program can actually help out the homeowners do something about their homes.”
Trustee Brian Conroy echoed Hendricks’ call to use ARPA funds to help businesses, especially ones unable to take advantage of things like the village’s special outdoor dining rules and street closures in 2020 and 2021.
He also supported reviving the flood-mitigation program and setting aside some funds for conducting an energy audit of village facilities and explore the feasibility of putting solar panels on the roof of village hall.
Trustee Kit Ketchmark echoed Garvey’s call to try to leverage the nearly $2.5 million in ARPA funds as much as possible, saying that instead of simply waiving business or liquor license fees to spend the money in ways that have a wider impact.
“[We need to do] something that will help [the businesses community] help the village move forward,” Ketchmark said. “So we can take this $2.5 million and turn this into more.”
Trustees will continue their discussion of how to earmark ARPA funds during their special 2021 budget workshop scheduled for Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.