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Pittsfield releases proposal for use of first $20 million installment of federal relief funds

A white woman seated in a chair with two people behind her in an office speaks
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts Mayor Linda Tyer held a closed press conference in her office about proposed American Rescue Plan Act spending on October 20th, 2021.

Civic leaders in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have unveiled how the city plans to spend its first installment of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Pittsfield is preparing to receive over $40 million in federal relief funds in the economic stimulus bill signed into law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March.

With the first $20 million installment in hand and the second portion coming next May, Mayor Linda Tyer broke down how Pittsfield intends to use the money in a closed press conference in her office Wednesday.

“The largest percentage, 45%, of the first $20 million will be directed towards initiatives, programs, projects where we will address healthy childhood, housing, social determinants of health, and especially our disproportionately impacted neighborhoods, which in the federal legislation is identified by the qualified census tracts," she said. "And for us, that is the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods and a little bit of the downtown area.”

The second-largest slice of the pie will go to addressing the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.

“And that includes investments in our travel and tourism industry and our cultural organizations," continued Tyer. "So that's set to be 23%. The next category is public health initiatives at 22%. And then you can see smaller investments of 3% for water and sewer infrastructure, 5% for revenue replacement, and 2% for administration.”

The Tyer administration formulated its plan for the ARPA funding with input from community meetings, surveys, and a special mayoral advisory council.

Within that proposed use of the first $20 million portion, around $5.6 million has been assigned to specific projects. 54% of the money in that pool will go to those in the category of public health.

“We want to fund in our City of Pittsfield Health Department, a community health outreach coordinator and a public health data analyst," said the mayor. "We are also going to be making investments in our high school, Pittsfield High School, Reid Middle School, and Crosby and that is directly related to creating a healthy learning environment and working in environment improving heating and ventilation systems. And we will also be doing upgrades to our fire stations to improve the health and wellbeing of those buildings as a workplace for firefighters who essentially live and sleep in our in our fire stations.”

29% of the $5.6 million will be directed at projects promoting healthy childhoods, housing and social determinants of health in Pittsfield.

“Our first investment, first round of investments will include supporting the YMCA is expansion of their daycare programs," said Tyer. "We'll be making an investment in that work. We will be providing funding to the Fenn Street shelter, to help close the funding gap that emerged as construction costs have increased.”

Money will also be allocated to Tyer’s At Home In Pittsfield project, a loan program begun in 2020 aimed at improving the city’s housing stock – particularly in its lower income communities.

“We want to make an infrastructure investment in sidewalks throughout Morningside and Westside as a way to create a healthy living environment for the people who live and work in those two neighborhoods," said the mayor. "Then we're also going to be seeking proposals from social service agencies and community partners to help us look for ways to have positive impact on mental health needs and youth intervention programs.”

11% of the $5.6 million will go toward repairs and improvements at the Ashley Reservoir and 6% will go into travel, tourism and cultural organizations in an effort to mitigate the pandemic-related recession and its hit on the city.

“For the community partners or the outside organizations that we are going to be working with, I would say, you know, we still have to put together sort of the administrative contractual obligations to ensure that they understand what their commitments are, and that they understand the reporting guide guidelines and requirements," said Tyer. "So we're looking at, I don't know, at least eight weeks before we're able to sort of put those contracts in place. For the items that are our projects, like the school investments, the investments in the Ashley Reservoir, that might be a bit quicker, because we have internal systems that can help accelerate those that work. But even say, for example, if we're going to, when we talk about doing investments at Pittsfield High School for heating and ventilation, we still have to go out to bid for that. We're using public money, we still have to comply with procurement practices. So it's not as if we can just hire someone and say, go to work. There's so many checks and balances in the system to protect the integrity of this fund.”

Pittsfield is required to provide the federal government with quarterly reports on use of the ARPA funding beginning in January 2022.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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