MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The town of Carmel is on tap to receive $3.7 million in stimulus money, and Putnam County would receive $19.07 million, as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Unlike school districts, which must follow guidelines on how they use their stimulus money (Mahopac schools are expected to receive $1.2 million), local municipal officials are expected to have broader discretion on how to spend the funds, which can be used to cover revenue losses from the pandemic or to provide aid to industries like tourism and travel.
County Executive MaryEllen Odell said she is working with the New York State Association of Counties and the National Association of Counties to find out the particulars on how and when the money will arrive and what, if any, stipulations will be attached to it.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York “is giving us info as it comes in regarding the allocations,” Odell said. “You can use it for sewer and water infrastructure and that is what we are looking at. We also want to support things like food pantries, mental health and substance abuse.”
Odell said using the money for water and sewer and other infrastructure projects represents long-term investments that will have a domino effect.
“You take that money and invest it and improve properties, then you will bring business growth and sales tax [revenue],” she said. “And a cleaner environment as well. That money can be a multiplying factor in the economy, jobs, business development and sales tax revenue.”
Carmel Supervisor Ken Schmitt said he, too, is waiting for more details and guidance about the stimulus money before the town figures out a spending plan.
“It would be a lot easier if they just cut us a check, but there is always red tape and hoops you have to jump through,” he said. “But from what I understand, local officials will have broad discretion and can use the money to cover revenue losses from the pandemic.”
Schmitt said the town lost revenue during the pandemic due to fewer building-permit applications and to the police writing fewer tickets, which reduced the subsequent fines.
“But the biggest loss was the loss our businesses suffered and are still trying to recover from,” he said. “It was the biggest impact to the local economy. We are hopeful that some of this money we are earmarked for can go to businesses that can demonstrate fiscal hardship. Language in the bill allows for mini-grants that can be dispersed to businesses.”
Schmitt said that like Odell, he, too, would like to see some of the money go toward water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects. He said that perhaps some of the money could be used for a much-needed Route 6 sewer project. He said the town is currently in negotiations with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection over the purchase of the water treatment plant across from Town Hall. If the town owned it, he said, it could increase its capacity, clearing the way for an extended sewer line down the Route 6 corridor. That, in turn, would aid businesses there.
Some of the funds could also be used to defray the cost of the Water District 2 rehab project, which includes the construction of a new water-treatment plant and has a price tag of around $35 million.
“The funding is much needed, no question,” Schmitt said. “Last year’s CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) did not include funding for local governments. We are evaluating the most beneficial use of the funds and will make decisions sometime this spring. I am encouraged and appreciative. Now we need to scour through the red tape and get better guidance on how to use it.
“We would like to help local businesses in any way that we can,” he continued. “If it allows us to do that, it is my intention. I will work with the Chamber of Commerce to help identify the businesses that need it most.”