Trumbull sets aside federal funds for contingencies

Board of Finance Chairwoman Lainie McHugh asks a question about federal COVID-19 funding during the June 14, 2021 board meeting.

Board of Finance Chairwoman Lainie McHugh asks a question about federal COVID-19 funding during the June 14, 2021 board meeting.

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TRUMBULL — A year after allocating some of the town’s rainy day fund to offset a potential increase, the Board of Finance took $400,000 out of the $5 million federal COVID-19 relief funds and socked it away for a rainy day.

The move increased next year’s mill rate slightly, from 35.33 to 35.42, an increase of 1.96 percent over the current year.

“While we’re still able to increase taxes at an extremely moderate level, I still had a concern about some of the families that have been significantly impacted by (the pandemic), and we don’t traditionally have a way to help people like that in our budget,” said board member Martin Isaac. “I think taking a piece out so we can help people on a case-by-case basis, or however this group or the town thinks is the right way to deal with it, I think that’s smart.”

Town Attorney Daniel Schopick said the money would go into a contingency fund and then would have to go through a reallocation process before being used.

“It certainly would not just be a decision of the first selectman’s office,” he said. “Whether it was Board of Finance and Town Council, or just the Board of Finance I’m not sure at this point.”

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said her plan was to have a committee decide how the $400,000 would be used. The money is subject to federal guidelines contained in the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes more than 150 pages of rules on how such funds can be used.

“I have not seen in the information that I’ve reviewed a process that’s been spelled out by the Treasury Department,” she said.

Board member Michael Barker clarified that none of the contingency funds could be spent without finance board approval.

“The most important thing to me is that it comes back before this board before it gets spent,” he said.

Lainie McHugh, the board chairwoman, said she hoped to see the money used to help those that need it most.

“My opinion would be that it is money that goes to help our small businesses and our taxpayers that are most in need,” she said.

For example, McHugh said, the money could be allocated to improve public safety, make capital improvements or to assist specific individuals or businesses, she said.

“Let’s say someone’s business is hurting due to the pandemic and we wanted to help, or there’s a specific tax abatement,” she said. “Or, we don’t have to use it at all.”

Even with the slight addition to the mill rate that the finance board made, McHugh said the total tax increase over two years averaged less than 1 percent.

“Last year we had to do damage control,” she said. “This year, the ARP funds allowed us to stabilize our taxes and replace some of the lost revenue from last year.”

Trumbull received slightly more than $13 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government. Of that amount, $2.7 million went to the school system. The remaining money comes in two annual installments. The federal funds must be spent by the end of 2024.