The Town of Carrboro recently approved a spending plan for the $6.7 million it received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
The act allocates money to local governments nationwide to assist in mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carrboro Mayor Pro Tempore Susan Romaine said the pandemic impacted Carrboro in many ways, including reducing the hours that people could work and decreasing sales tax revenue for the Town.
She said small and independent businesses were disproportionately affected.
“Carrboro was like cities and towns all over the country that were hit very hard by the pandemic,” Romaine said.
Carrboro Town Council member Eliazar Posada said the Town Council decided how to allocate the funding with help from recommendations that the Town staff and the Town Manager provided.
Although all members of the Carrboro Town Council support initiatives surrounding affordable housing and helping businesses, the Town Council had to make compromises when deciding how to allocate funds, according to Posada.
He said some members advocated for bike lanes and walkways, while others emphasized funding small environmental projects. He added that he was most supportive of housing and mental health services.
The funding will focus on issues that became more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes assistance for small businesses and improvements to parks, public safety and affordable housing.
Housing accounts for the largest portion of this funding, at $1 million. According to Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils, one of the most significant impacts of the pandemic involved people’s ability to afford housing.
Romaine said the housing money will go towards building new affordable housing units, emergency housing assistance for people who are at risk of evictions and weatherization — or weatherproofing — of low and middle-income homes, which will advance climate mitigation goals and reduce energy bills.
Carrboro's Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Resources will also see significant improvements as a result of the federal funding. Posada said during the pandemic, parks were particularly important resources for local residents.
“Through the pandemic, many folks relied on our parks and different offerings that the Town has in order to be outside of their home in a safe manner,” Posada said.
Romaine said Baldwin Park in Carrboro will undergo major renovations. The Department was allocated $227,000 to renovate the park and funding to repair or replace benches, signs and picnic tables at other parks.
The Town will use $800,000 of the funds to improve its information technology, including an extension of the fiber optic network on South Merritt Mill Road to the UNC Cogeneration Facility.
These funds will also support the hiring of consultants to develop a plan to provide broadband internet to affordable housing in Carrboro.
Mental health is another area of focus for Carrboro’s spending plan under the umbrella of public safety. Posada said some of the funding will go to a pilot program already in place that dispatches mental health professionals to respond to certain 911 emergencies.
“We don’t always have to just have an armed officer responding to these calls,” Posada said.
The Town is required to use all of the available funds given to them by the American Rescue Plan Act by Dec. 31, 2026.
Seils said that although the Town Council has already created a spending plan, not all of the funds will be spent immediately or in the same manner.
“In terms of timeline for specific areas of funding, it'll really depend on the program or what we're supporting,” Seils said.
He said departments within the Town of Carrboro have already identified priorities within their jurisdiction that would be eligible for federal funds. This was done through interviews between Town staff and local non-profit organizations.
Funds can be spent using grants to local organizations or direct spending on Town facilities and services, he added.
“The next step is going to be for each of those categories — what’s the process going to be for getting the money out the door?” Seils said.
A breakdown of the $6.7 million spending plan can be found on the Carrboro Town website.
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