MONTPELIER — The Scott administration on Tuesday unveiled how it plans to use the state’s $1 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocation over the next four years.
During a conference call with reporters, Susanne Young, secretary of the Agency of Administration, said Gov. Phil Scott tasked the cabinet with creating a funding package that will “transform Vermont’s economic foundation.” Scott’s plan has been reviewed by the legislature and the two branches will work together to finalize a budget, which Young said will allow the state to tackle areas officials have only been able to “nibble around the edges” of in the past.
“We’re optimistic we’ll be able to work on many goals that we share, and on which we have common ground,” Young said. “… This is what we’ve called a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Of the $2.7 billion earmarked for Vermont, roughly $1 billion of that funding will be expended at the state’s discretion over the next four years. Municipalities will also receive $198 million in direct funds, which Young said will create opportunities for “really tremendous collaboration.”
Here are the five key areas in Scott’s proposal:
1. Economic development
Of the $143 million earmarked for economic development in the state, $90 million would go toward capital investments. The plan cites creation of a capital co-investment program to incentivize “transformational projects” that build new facilities in Vermont for either existing or new businesses.
The funding would also go toward funding impactful regional priority projects. Locally, a proposed project to extend water and sewer lines from Missisquoi Valley Union High School to Franklin County State Airport to expand development possibilities is an example of a project that could be funded under multiple priorities in the plan, according to Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
However, Moore said, the state hasn’t identified specific projects at this time.
“We have a number that are in different stages of development,” she said.
The plan calls for $50 million for economic recovery grants, and $3 million for exempted and expedited permitting for ARP-funded projects, including exemption from Act 250 regulations for projects in downtowns, existing industrial parks and Agency of Transportation replacement bridge and road projects.
2. Climate change
Of the $200 million proposed, half of that funding will go toward implementation of the state’s climate action plan, which is set to be finalized by Dec. 1.
Of the remaining funds, $25 million would go toward electric vehicle infrastructure, adding to the 292 public charging stations across the state. A further $29 million would go toward fuel switching incentives, and $25 million would go toward mitigating flood hazards.
Weatherization would be the focus of $21 million, with a goal of weatherizing about 900 incremental units before the end of 2024. This funding would also go toward incentive programs for electric equipment and healthcare sector investment in energy saving weatherization.
3. Water and sewer infrastructure
Of the planned $170 million investment in this area, $75 million would go toward implementation of stormwater retrofit projects, with $35 million going toward village water and wastewater pretreatment projects and $30 million toward abatement or elimination of sewer overflows.
According to the state’s plan, St. Albans is among the communities in Vermont with the highest incidence of overflows, which occur during rainfall or snowmelt events when the wastewater system is overwhelmed by stormwater runoff.
Dam safety projects would receive $15 million, with an additional $15 million going toward improving water and wastewater systems for homes.
The state’s plan would invest $249 million to develop mixed-income housing, a private homebuilder program, create public-private partnerships and expand shelter capacity, with the goal of bringing 5,000 housing units to market by the end of 2024.
Josh Hanford, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, called it “the greatest investment in housing in the history of Vermont.”
“Vermont’s success during this pandemic has driven many people to Vermont, but the costs of homeownership have really skyrocketed,” Hanford said, adding that if the state doesn’t invest in a homebuilder program, “we could be decades behind.”
The proposed homebuilder program would focus on creating housing for moderate-income homebuyers through funding and purchase incentives, creating an estimated 1,135 units.
The lion’s share of the state’s $250 million investment in connectivity would go toward broadband deployment. With $225 million, the state would aim to bring fiber-to-the-home internet access to the 52,759 locations in the state that currently have no plan for service deployment.
Of those locations, 4,778 are within the Northwest Communications Union District, which covers numerous rural Franklin County communities.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the state to achieve universality in broadband coverage in the state,” said June Tierney, commissioner of the Public Service Department.
Tierney said the state’s communications union districts could opt to conduct the buildups themselves or through public-private partnerships.
Of the remaining funds, $25 million would go toward implementing measures from the state’s 10-year Telecom Plan, due in June 2021, to expand mobile phone service.