Jefferson City is in line to receive $7.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds, but officials are waiting for guidance on how they can use the funds before pushing forward with spending suggestions.
The city received the first half of the funds in June and is supposed to receive the second half within 12 months.
City Administrator Steve Crowell said staff is proceeding with caution while waiting for official federal guidance. An initial rule is out, but he doesn’t know when a final rule will be released.
“From my point of view, it just is prudent to wait until that final rule comes out,” he said. “Then there’s a long discussion, getting public input and those kinds of things.”
The initial rule lists four acceptable uses: public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, premium pay, revenue loss and investments in infrastructure.
“The biggest misperception that I run into is that the money can be used for anything,” Crowell said. “Well it can’t. There’s some very specific kinds of things and then some really kind of fuzzy kinds of things.”
While the spending areas may change in the final rule, they offer some guidance for consideration.
Public health and economic impacts need to be a response to the virus itself or the impact it had in the economy. Some examples include housing services, health services, violence intervention programs and educational disparities.
Premium pay refers to pay for essential workers through providing grants to third-party employers or the city’s employees. This can include staff in health care facilities, childcare, sanitation, food service and transit.
Revenue loss means cities with a budget shortfall can use funds to keep government services operating.
Jefferson City does not have a revenue shortfall, said Margie Mueller, director of finance and IT.
“When you hear, ‘Well these cities are buying all kinds of police vehicles and technology and funding all these other things. Why aren’t we doing that, why can’t we use it for that?'” she said. “That’s because they’re using their revenue loss money whereas, we don’t (have any).”
Under investments in infrastructure, the rule specifically lays out broadband, water and sewer infrastructure as acceptable uses.
Mueller said the public comment period for the federal rules closed mid-July. She’s hopeful the final rule will be released soon.
Crowell said he suspects part of why it hasn’t come out yet is that changes are being considered.
“How that impacts us remains to be seen,” he said.
Creating a spending plan
There’s also some work to be done on the staff side, Crowell said, such as putting together expenditure summaries from 2020 for COVID-19 related expenses the city will reimburse itself for.
“We’re still getting some of that information together and getting some of those pieces,” he said. “There’s a long timeframe to spend that money, so it’s just a matter of making sure that we understand all that.”
Some of the money is being allocated during the 2022 budget process, but it’s going specifically to stormwater.
“Since the beginning, stormwater has been in the rule and it’s very clear,” Mueller said. “Any stormwater project (is an acceptable use for the funds).”
Mayor Carrie Tergin proposed using $250,000 for stormwater improvements in her draft budget. On Thursday night, the budget committee added $540,917 for stormwater projects. Between those allotments and Capital Improvement Sales Tax funds, the city is looking to spend $1 million next year on stormwater.
Besides the $790,917 for stormwater, ARP funds have not been allocated for anything.
During budget discussions, council members have asked whether APR funding can be used for different requests — mostly systems to digitize city business.
Crowell said those would probably be acceptable uses, but didn’t say for sure because the final rule isn’t out.
He’s advised council members, Crowell said, to have conversations with Cole County commissioners about whether the two agencies could partner up on projects with the money.
“There’s a big piece of how those two should coordinate or at least complement each other, I think, and so that’s a part of it as well,” he said.
Originally Appeared Here