Southold Town plans to pursue “any recoverable funds [it] may qualify for” under the American Rescue Plan Act, federal legislation investing billions in local communities to address the lingering impact of the pandemic.
At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold’s estimated aid could total up to $2.3 million — but it comes with “strings.”
“It will be very, very difficult to acquire much of that, certainly not all of it,” he said. Mr. Russell told The Suffolk Times after the meeting that “estimates of what towns would qualify for, based on census data, were quite high” and “many towns in Suffolk County were scheduled to receive millions.”
“I didn’t share the optimism of other towns,” he said in an email. “I said at the time that the criteria for qualifying [for] the funds and the program for distributing the funds hadn’t even been established yet and we should never plan on money until we have it in hand.”
He added that he had made it clear there would be likely “so many strings attached” that the town “would be lucky to see a fraction of that” and “will be putting in a lot of work for very little return.”
According to town comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower, the funds may be used to make up for revenues lost due to the pandemic.
“The two main areas I see that in is solid waste,” she said. “We weren’t collecting permit fees, we weren’t collecting a lot of certain revenues during the shutdown, and then recreation and beach, where we lost quite a bit in user fees.”
Ms. Hansen-Hightower said the town will need to compare revenue at the same times in 2019 and 2020, which will be “relatively easy.” Southold cannot, however, use those funds for expenditures incurred before March 2021.
“So all of those costs for PPE, for the Zoom meetings, for the COVID premium pay, we cannot use it for any of that,” she said. “I was very disappointed to hear that.”
The funds would cover costs incurred between March 3, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2024. Ms. Hansen-Hightower said, “There’s talk of being able to use them for certain possible capital improvements,” but “a lot of it is going to be surrounded around being ready for the next pandemic or the next wave.”
The town has until July 9 to request the funds, something board members seemed to favor.
“In the worst case we have to give the money back, but if we don’t sign up for it, we’re out completely?” asked board member Bob Ghosio.
“Right,” Ms. Hansen-Hightower responded. She said she would work with the town attorney to determine what the money can be used for.