If an organization wants to tap into some of the $2.1 million dollars in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money handed to the Town of St. Johnsbury they must first fill out an application.
But not Rural Edge.
On Monday night, the St. Johnsbury Select Board voted to approve the town’s official ARPA funding application and process for local organizations to request the federal funds. The process includes a special application form that will be scored by the St. Johnsbury ARPA Committee based on public input before a decision is made.
But twenty minutes later, at the same meeting, the board granted Rural Edge $200,000 in ARPA funding.
Town officials said that’s because $500,000 of the ARPA money had been set aside for “time-sensitive” requests that are evaluated by the ARPA Committee based on certain criteria and forwarded to the select board for approval.
The committee recommended that Rural Edge’s funding requests be fast-tracked allowing the NEK housing non-profit to bypass the town’s approved application process. Rural Edge will eventually have to fill out the ARPA application but only for administrative reasons because they’ve already been granted the money.
The Rural Edge request came from the organization’s Executive Director, Patrick Shattuck.
Shattuck is also a member of the town’s ARPA Committee.
He attended Monday’s meeting by Zoom with two other Rural Edge executives who watched quietly while the select board approved the ARPA application process. Shattuck then took the floor during the next agenda item listed as “ARPA Funds Request.”
Shattuck first asked for $150,000 in ARPA funding as a local match to combine with $1.4 million dollars in other funding which has already been granted by the Vermont Housing And Conservation Board (VHCB) for renovation projects at 138 Cherry Street and 759 Railroad Street.
“These properties already have all the other funding in place and would be ready to begin construction in June,” said Shattuck. Shattuck also said those projects could be delayed due to changes in real estate closings or other complications.
The select board then approved the request.
“Thank-you all very much,” said Shattuck to the board.
“You got one more, buddy,” said Board Chairman Frank Empsall, who is also a member of the town ARPA committee.
Shattuck’s second Rural Edge ARPA request was for $50,000 to combine with millions in federal funding Rural Edge is applying for this summer to build senior housing on Main Street. “
Empsall asked if the application for the Main Street project had to be submitted by the first of May.
“No,” said Shattuck. “It has to be in by the end of June.”
The second request was also approved.
The only other person who made an ARPA funding request on Monday was another member of the ARPA committee - Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) Executive Director Jenna O’Farrell.
“Now, we save the best for last,” said Empsall. “Jenna,”
O’Farrell, who said NECKA “works closely with Rural Edge,” asked the board for ARPA money to fund a feasibility study about establishing a new warming shelter in St. Johnsbury this year.
Shattuck then chimed in and voiced his support for the request.
“There’s an entire warming shelter committee working and meeting regularly and there was consensus from the entire ARPA committee as well,” said Shattuck.
But the board tabled O’Farrell’s request and asked for more information.
“The board sounds like they’re in favor of doing this,” said Empsall. “But if you could do some homework and please get back to us then we can hopefully firm up your request.”
St. Johnsbury Town Manager Chad Whitehead, who is also a member of the ARPA Committee, said the committee would have been open to other organizations with “time sensitive” funding needs but he also confirmed that the town did not spread the word that the $500,000 would be available.
“I can’t say we’ve done any official outreach on that,” said Whitehead.
Instead of being provided with the town-approved application form, the select board received copies of the Rural Edge grant applications from other agencies.
This led Selectman Dennis Smith to abstain on the vote for the $150,000 request due to concerns about the documented criminal activity by some of the homeless population being housed at state expense at local motels.
“Patrick, the application states this is for homeless housing, not affordable housing,” said Smith. “Is it affordable housing?”
“It’s permanent housing but the ARPA funds from VHCB require that it first be occupied by people moving from the motels,” said Shattuck. “It is not emergency, it is a permanent housing development. It’s just that it first needs to be occupied by people moving from homelessness.”
Applications for St. Johnsbury ARPA Funding are available on the town’s website or by contacting Whitehead directly.
“When someone does submit an application we can look at the scoring that was developed through the public input process and score the application,” said Whitehead. “What is it that the community actually wants us to spend this money on?”