Here's how Fairfield plans to use its federal relief money

FAIRFIELD — Training and equipment for the police, flood mitigation projects and aid for residents still struggling with the pandemic’s effects are among the ways town officials are thinking about using Fairfield’s $24.8 million federal relief allocation.

Officials recently presented the possibilities to the town’s three governing bodies and will now collect public feedback through August. A finalized plan will then be voted on in September.

“Obviously there’s a lot of excitement about our town receiving this level of funding from the federal government. It’s obviously a gift to our town,” First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said. “There was a lot of discussion and again [while] reviewing the projects, we took some things into consideration that they’re shovel ready, that they could be completed within the timeline established under the federal guidelines and that they could touch pretty much a wide percentage of our community.”

The six main areas of focus Fairfield settled on were mental health and social services; economic development; public safety; environment; quality of life; and town modernization and infrastructure, with the biggest lump sum going to the Fairfield Police Department in the amount of $3.7 million.

The American Relief Plan requires the money be used on a wide variety of government services. Kupchick said the town plans to check off all areas.

Police

The Fairfield Police Department’s $3.7 million training and equipment bundle from Axon Technologies is the biggest proposal being considered. The bundle includes hardware, software, accessories, training programs, customer support, equipment refreshes, body cameras, dashboard cameras and stun guns over a 10-year period.

Kupchick said this item is very important for public safety and law enforcement in light of legislative changes and an increase need for the police department.

Police Chief Robert Kalamaras said the purchase will help improve the department’s accountability and credibility with the public.

“This obviously will better connect us with the people of our community to call for service and assist in the police department’s handling of calls in the most effective and efficient matter,” he said.

Environment

The proposal also includes several million dollars for environmental projects, including the downtown resiliency project, Perry’s Green Bulkhead and the Rooster River Detention Area.

Town officials plan to use $1 million to fix the bulkhead system located at Perry’s Green Park at South Harbor.

The project will replace the existing bulkhead with a new bulkhead that will secure the surrounding park area from erosion, prevent sinkholes and remove a potential dangerous structure. The timber frames and steel bulkhead are estimated to be at least 55 years old and have deteriorated beyond repair, creating a dangerous situation, officials said.

Just over $1.4 million will go to the downtown resiliency project, which will use and install “green” infrastructure to mitigate flooding and resiliency downtown.

In an effort to stop flooding in another area of Fairfield, just over $3.2 million will be dedicated to the Rooster River Detention Area, which Kupchick called “a no brainer.”

“This has been a long, long standing issue in our town combined with Bridgeport and Trumbull, but we have seen significant flooding,” Kupchick said. “In 2006, 2007 and 2018 businesses and homes were really devastated during those flooding.”

Fairfield will also commit $1 million to the fill pile remediation.

“As we’re all very aware we’ve already spent millions of dollars and we are aware that we will be spending a lot more than that before we are finally at the end of this cleanup effort,” Kupchick said.

Mental health and social services

Fairfield officials also seek to provide help for residents still struggling with the pandemic.

The town previously set up a COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide limited help to residents significantly impacted by the pandemic. Now the town has shifted focus to helping the community recover by establishing the COVID-19 Recovery Fund.

The recovery fund provides financial assistance to individuals and families in Fairfield who are unable to meet their basic household needs, such as mortgage, auto expenses, utilities and food due to the economic disruption caused by COVID-19. The town will put $200,000 into the fund, as well $150,000 for Operation Hope, Lifebridge Community Services and The Child and Family Guidance Center.

“What we’re seeing now is that as the COVID-19 relief is kind of easing and unemployment is going to be ending,” said Julie DeMarco, director of social services. “People who are not going to be receiving stimulus any longer are starting to get stressed and basic needs are expensive.”

She said the social workers are seeing an increase in demand.

“So this is very very exciting and it’s a great thing for the town to be able to do,” DeMarco said.

Other projects

More than a dozen other projects round out the list, including $500,000 to continue the fire house renovation, $700,000 for sidewalks, $25,000 for the Burr Historical Gardens, $923,000 for renovations and upgrades at playgrounds, $100,000 to renovate Jenning’s Beach concession, $230,000 for maintenance at the golf course, as well as $940,000 to replace the town fleet with electric and hybrid vehicles and add charging stations.

About $850,000 would go to Bigelow Center updates and another $100,000 for a deck or patio at the senior center.

The list also includes $450,000 for a stage and public restrooms at the Fairfield Museum, $1 million to fix the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the schools,$400,000 for hybrid meeting technology, $2.7 million for the town and schools’ fiber optic network, $1 million for traffic lights and $3 million for paving.

The town plans to hire a diversity and inclusion consultant for $75,000, as well as another consultant, also for $75,000, to ensure the town is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A sum of $200,000 will be used to fix infrastructure and another $175,000 for economic development.