Southold distributes $450,000 of its COVID relief funds to fire departments, nonprofits


The six member town board voted unanimously Tuesday to distribute $50,000 to each of the seven fire departments that serve its residents — Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport, East Marion, Orient and Fishers Island. Officials also voted to allocate nearly $100,000 to nonprofit groups including the Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation (CAST), the North Fork Parish Outreach food pantry and Maureen’s Haven, a Riverhead-based homeless outreach program that provides support across the East End.

Cutchogue Fire Department plans to use its share to equip department vehicles with upgraded radio and communications technology. “Everything is so expensive today. Every little bit we can get helps,” Commissioner Mike Finnican said Wednesday. “This really takes the burden off of taxpayers.”

Southold received approximately $2 million in federal relief funds intended to offset economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic under a stimulus bill that was approved by Congress in 2021.

Unlike the federal grants that municipalities often rely on for projects, ARPA money has no strict spending requirements. The funds must be used within four categories — to replace lost revenue, address public health issues, provide premium pay for essential workers and boost infrastructure — but municipalities have great latitude for spending within those classifications. Money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. Unused funds return to the federal government.

While the town used a portion of the $2 million funding for its own projects, including $180,000 for improvements at a senior resource center in Mattituck, board members for months debated how to fairly distribute the remaining funds and what the process should be for nonprofit groups to receive public money.

“We greatly appreciate the support from the town,” said Cathy Demeroto, executive director at CAST, which received $70,000. “This funding will help us as our budget increases to provide essential services to meet the growing need in our community.”

Amid the pandemic and 40-year inflation highs, CAST saw a tremendous increase in need. Before the pandemic, the group provided an average of 45,000 meals annually. Last year, the group distributed more than 360,000.

Councilman Greg Doroski helped spearhead an effort to develop criteria for nonprofit groups to seek aid.

“CAST pushed the issue in front of our eyes,” Doroski said, describing how board members were taken aback after learning that the organization serves nearly 10% of the population of Southold Town, recorded as 23,732 in the 2020 census. “They helped quantify the need for us.”

All three groups that applied for ARPA funding received it. North Fork Parish Outreach was awarded $22,734, and Maureen’s Haven will get $7,265.

“When we received [the applications], it was clear that these three organizations have spent a significant amount of money serving the residents of our community,” Doroski said. “We wanted this money to go directly to the people of Southold Town.”