2 mayors explain their ARPA spending strategies

In the 1970s, the federal government launched the Community Development Block Grant program and funneled $13 million in largely no-strings-attached money to New Bedford. The mayor at the time, Jack Markey, used a large chunk of the funds to restore the historic downtown, including the cobblestone streets. 

“People thought he was nuts,” said Jon Mitchell, the current mayor of New Bedford. “As it turned out, some 40 years later, it’s been a huge success. … When you think about marketing New Bedford, that’s the first place we turn.” 

Now Mitchell and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer find themselves in a similar situation. The federal government has given both cities millions of dollars ($82 million to New Bedford and $40 million to Pittsfield, in both cases about 20 percent of the municipality’s operating budget) and the mayors, like their counterparts across the state, are trying to decide how best to spend the money. They came on The Codcast to discuss their decision-making process. 

Both started with the basics, consulting existing strategic plans, conducting surveys, holding community meetings, and listening to focus groups. Tyer formed a nine-member advisory council that meets weekly. Mitchell said there were also political considerations, priorities of city councilors and putting money into wastewater infrastructure to lower water and sewer rates.

Mitchell said he laid down two rules. Since the federal aid is one-time money, he refused to launch new programs or expand existing programs that could not be sustained without additional funding. He also wanted to give preference to investments that would leverage other capital.

“We want this to change the overall direction of the city,” he said. “We want this to be additive, not just using money to maintain things but to be strategic and set the city on a different course.”

The political tendency in these situations is to spread the money around, a little bit here and a little bit there. But both Tyer and Mitchell are placing relatively large bets.

Tyer said she expects Pittsfield to spend roughly 45 percent of its money on housing infrastructure, including expanding the supply of housing overall and specifically increasing affordable housing and shelter for the homeless. “Housing is a challenge here in the city of Pittsfield,” she said. “We hear from our business leaders all the time that they have openings but people cannot find housing that’s either high quality or affordable.”  

Tyer said the city will also spend big on water infrastructure, while also reserving a sizable chunk of the money to offer grants to community groups who apply for funding. Tyer said the city is handing out standard applications as well as “concept applications” – for those with an idea or concept that still needs to be fully fleshed out. Tyer said the city will work with applicants on promising concepts. 

“We’re trying to find the right balance between supporting our community partners and advancing initiatives that will help the most vulnerable in our community but also preserving opportunities for capital investments that we need to make in our own infrastructure,” Tyer said. 

For Mitchell, the largest chunk of the city’s federal funds – $18 million – will go to arts, culture, hospitality, and tourism. He said the city’s strategy with the federal money is to accentuate or build on what the municipality already does well.  He said arts and culture are areas where New Bedford excels and can grow. 

“That cultural sector draws a lot of folks in,” he said. “This is a set of sectors that we think could generate a pretty good return on investment.” 

Both mayors are optimistic that the city, when it looks back at these investments in 2030, will see major changes. “Absolutely,” Tyer said, mentioning stronger neighborhoods and clean drinking water as two of the changes. 

Mitchell feels the same way. “We want to leave something here that is lasting,” he said.




Clean slate: New Gloucester Mayor Greg Verga promises a reset of City Hall. Read more.

Tax take keeps rising: State budget writers up tax revenue estimates for this year by $1.5 billion and forecast a 2.7 percent gain next year. Read more.

Weymouth station revisited: US Sen. Ed Markey says FERC is rethinking its approval of the Weymouth Compressor Station. Read more.


Make press coverage easier: Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition says the pandemic-driven changes to the Open Meeting Law should be made permanent. Read more.

Missing Black women: Alexandra Onuoha, director of advocacy at Black Boston, explains the crisis of missing black women and girls in Massachusetts. Read more.

Misleading picture: Tim Murray of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and Amy Rosenthal of Health Care for All dissect the independent cost analysis of the Mass General Brigham expansion in Woburn, Westborough, and Westwood. Read more.

Give us the vote: Teenagers Dahlia Breslow and Lila Nields-Duffy of the Northampton Youth Commission push for a law that would allow them to vote in municipal elections. Read more.

Taking on John Muir: John Muir’s view of wilderness, that it must be devoid of human influence, is just plain wrong, says Kate Lindroos Conlin. Read more.

Mental health concerns: Polls indicate the mental health of children remains a strong parental concern, according to Zayna Basma and Maeve Duggan of the MassINC Polling Group. Read more.

Speak the truth: John Messinger and Leo Beletskysay misinformation is fueling the overdose crisis. Read more.

Solving student loan crisis: Robert Hildreth, founder of the Hildreth Institute, says President Biden’s payment delays are no substitute for a real answer to the student loan crisis. Read more.




The state will try to claw back more than $2.7 billion in pandemic unemployment benefit overpayments to individuals it says were not eligible for the money. (Boston Globe)


Boston Mayor Michelle Wu extends the vaccination deadline for city workers. (GBH) The city’s firm vaccine requirement for employees and restaurants poses a double threat to Wu’s political standing, says Joe Battenfeld. (Boston Herald) Both the Globe and Herald look at the trial by fire of Wu’s first months in office. 

Amesbury becomes the latest community to suspend fees for cannabis companies. (Eagle-Tribune)


Physicians are calling for a system to track empty emergency room beds, as hospitals hit capacity. (Salem News) A new DPH order Friday gave hospitals more flexibility around things like staffing to help ease the patient crunch. (Eagle-Tribune)


The Springfield Republican profiles Billy Tranghese, the longtime chief of staff to House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal, who is leaving to take a lobbying job.


Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP, launches a bid for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state. Longtime Democratic incumbent Bill Galvin has yet to say whether he’ll seek reelection this fall. 


The FBI issues a nationwide alert for a woman who went missing from UMass Amherst 18 years ago. (MassLive)

Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington tweets support for Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney in Baltimore, who has been indicted on four federal felony charges. (Berkshire Eagle)

Meet the Author

Ronn Johnson, the president and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Inc, who worked tirelessly to help poor children and families and people with disabilities, dies at 63 of a COVID-related illness. (MassLive)