METHUEN — Gov. Charlie Baker came through in the clutch when he announced that Methuen is receiving $26.3 million in additional federal COVID-19 relief funds, bringing the total amount for the city to about $45 million.
"I think it's awesome," said Mayor Neil Perry. "I'm extremely happy."
The money was to be transferred to the city Friday.
Perry began fighting for additional money after the initial round of federal funds offered to cities and towns in Massachusetts showed that Methuen was coming up way short of other, much smaller communities.
After a political push by local, state and federal lawmakers, Baker agreed to the funding for Methuen, as well as the similarly aggrieved communities of Randolph, Chelsea and Everett.
In addition to Methuen getting $26.3 million, Chelsea will receive $28.5 million, Everett $33.3 million, and Randolph $21 million.
“Our Administration committed additional funds to Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph to ensure all of the Commonwealth’s communities received the funding they deserved from the federal relief package,” Baker stated in a noontime press release Friday. “These four communities were disproportionately impacted by the virus, and this additional funding will support critical local COVID response and recovery efforts.”
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, cheered the governor's announcement, noting that "it would have been a huge injustice if Methuen hadn't gotten that money."
State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, also a Methuen democrat, said the Legislative push that led to Friday's announcement "was good."
"I'm glad it happened and I'm glad he (Baker) took immediate action," she said.
City Councilor D.J. Beauregard, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said he was "glad to see the governor has kept the promise he made to the people of Methuen. These funds will help our city greatly as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 recession."
There are some strings attached to the funding, Perry said.
For example, the mayor is required to hire a compliance officer, using the federal money, to make sure the city spends the $26.3 million correctly.
In addition, spending from the initial $19 million must be kept separate and traced independently from spending of the $26 million.
Perry said he's not concerned with the requirements from state and federal regulators.
"We aren't going to use it crazily," he noted. "Do I want to use it on some city parks? Yes. But if they say we can't, then so be it."
He said Maggie Duprey, the city's chief administrative and financial officer, thinks it's a good idea to hire a compliance officer.
Up until now it had been Duprey's responsibility to track use of the CARES Act funding, which was the first round of federal money — about $2.2 trillion — released across the country in 2020. This will be one less responsibility for the Duprey, whose office is in the middle of all financial decisions for the city.
According to the governor's office, "these four municipalities will be able to use this funding to support costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including direct response efforts, addressing negative economic impacts, replacing revenue lost during the pandemic, making investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, as well as other eligible expenditures."
Baker explained that these communities were shortchanged as a result of a federal formula used to calculate direct aid under the Community Development Block Grant program, while assistance to other communities was allocated on a per-capita basis.
"The use of these two different allocation formulas created disparities in distributions among cities and towns, and Chelsea, Everett, Methuen and Randolph are the four designated hardest hit communities with disproportionately smaller levels of federal funding compared to other hardest hit communities," Baker said. "The Administration worked closely with key state and local stakeholders to determine the extent of the necessary additional resources given federal funding levels and local needs."
Perry said the city has two years to spend the money.
"We are going to weigh all options," he said, adding that most of the CARES Act money was spent on overtime for police and fire personnel to cover for those out sick due to COVID-19.
The city still has about $900,000 of CARES Act money left, but $700,000 is already dedicated to replacing the air conditioning and heating system in City Hall, leaving about $200,000 still unused.
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito noted that "as the Commonwealth’s economy reopens, this funding will allow the four communities to make investments to recover from the pandemic. Our Administration was pleased to work directly with local officials in these communities to deliver this funding.”