FALL RIVER — For more than six months, Mayor Paul Coogan has beaten the drum that the American Rescue Plan Act formula to calculate use of funding for lost revenue is unfair, particularly for poorer communities in the Commonwealth. He also enlisted the federal delegation in his mission.
And now a recent change in federal guidelines means that the city will be able to use $10 million of its $64 million ARPA allocation to cover revenue losses.
“It gives us greater flexibility to fill any gaps in the next couple of years,” said Coogan. “The U.S. Treasury has now recognized what we were trying to tell them, that they are hamstringing cities and towns.”
Because of Massachusetts’ unique education and school building funding schemes, cities and towns had to include that money as part of its overall revenue.
That hurt Fall River, which received a bump in school aid starting last year, thanks to the Massachusetts Student Opportunity Act, Chapter 70 money. The city also recieved $65 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to help pay for the new B.M.C. Durfee High School.
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That standard wreaked havoc on the administration’s budget, which had originally included $4.5 million in ARPA funding for revenue loss during a contentious 2022 budget season with the former City Council.
After an opinion by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the administration wiped out the lost revenue line item, and was left with the challenge of plugging the hole.
But last week, Coogan’s persistence, along with the help of the region’s senators and congressmen, paid off with the U.S. Treasury releasing the new guideline option for determining a community’s revenue loss with the $10 million option to help fund government services.
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“This gives everybody, statewide — and I think even nationally — the ability to use the first $10 million of their allocation. So, we’ll be plugging it in the best places we can after I meet with the finance team,” said Coogan. “It’s definitely tremendous flexibility.”
A game changer for the city
Michael Dion, executive director of the Fall River Community Development Agency, called it a big game changer for the city.
“We’ve always said we’ve had lost revenue due to the pandemic,” said Dion.
Back in July, Coogan wrote a letter explaining the issue to members of the federal delegation, including Reps. Jake Auchincloss and Bill Keating and Senator Ed Markey.
Emails also went back and forth between the mayor and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s assistants, and in November, the delegation met with U.S. Treasury officials to make the case for the change.
In December, several members of Congress penned a letter to Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, urging the change in revenue calculations.
On Jan. 6, Coogan got word that the $10 million option was written into the federal ARPA guidelines.
Dion credited Coogan with effecting the change in the revenue calculations.
Auchincloss agreed. “He had everything to do with it,” said Auchincloss, joking Coogan could be relentless. “This is where partnerships and relationships are so important.”
Auchincloss said he was able to get a one-on-one meeting with Yellen to discuss the issue of the calculations for revenue losses for ARPA funding, money that was meant to be “directly and immediately useful.”
“That’s what I tried to press home that the most agile and effective level of government in this country is local government. It’s mayors, it’s city councils and select boards —they are the ones who understand the most what constituents need and can respond most impactfully.”
Auchincloss said he told Yellen that it was about “empowering cities and towns and mayors like Paul Coogan.”
“I think that made some impact,” added Auchincloss.
Jo C. Goode may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today!