City gets huge influx of ARPA cash
When Congress passed President Joe Biden's $350 billion American Rescue Plan Act in May, it meant payments of $1,400 to individuals throughout the land, the extension of unemployment benefits, increases in tax credits, support for small businesses and more.
What it meant to local municipalities was just as important. The city of Newberg, for example, has received $2.65 million of the $5.3 million allotted to it via the act. The city's budget committee began meeting months ago to determine how the funds would be distributed.
"I am incredibly proud of what we did last night and cannot wait until Feb. 16, when we will do the second round of ARPA voting, when we will have another chance to inject recovery dollars for the betterment of all our residents," Will Worthey, interim city manager, said following a Dec. 15 budget committee meeting.
Worthey added that once the city received the funds late last summer, it initiated "a process for allocating the funds that would be fair, democratic and transparent." In November, city staff developed a method for dispersing the funds based on applications from city departments, nonprofits and private firms.
"There will be at least two more budget committee sessions that will seek to allocate the funds using the same digital voting process as we used last night," Worthey said.
In general, the ARPA was designed to help local, state, territorial and tribal governments respond to the pandemic and bring back jobs by replacing lost revenue, supporting economic stabilization for households and businesses and addressing the mammoth public health and economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.
In Newberg, that meant Worthey and the budget committee were charged with analyzing government documents to determine what could be funded and how.
"I can say that project types are very wide-ranging and can be used for many types of operations to create economic recovery, replace lost funds impacted by COVID or stimulate the local economy," Worthey said.
The committee settled on 12 projects, programs and groups of individuals that will receive money in the first round of funding. The list ranges from economic development projects to money to provide shelter for the homeless, from new software for the city to the launch of a downtown gift card program.
First up is a $70,000 reduction in the system development charges on construction of a 79-room hotel in Newberg.
"The hotel would fill a need for more hotel rooms in the community, promote tourism and bring in revenue through transit lodging taxes," a release from the city said.
Worthey said the hotel is "not theoretical."
"It is a Fairfield Inn," he said. "For many years, our planning and economic development staff have been trying to entice a new medium-sized hotel to join and enrich our community, especially to help visiting parents of our GFU students. Previous planning research has indicated that we may be as many as 200 beds short of what we need to increase our local tourism economy; with this small incentive we hope to close the deal."
The city will distribute $2,500 bonuses ($380,000 overall) to 110 essential staff in the police and public works departments who worked throughout the pandemic. The bonus doesn't include managerial or exempt workers.
"It's our way to thank the persistence and bravery of our staff and inject dollars directly into the local community," Worthey said. "These workers in public works operations, public works maintenance and police patrol are obliged to come to work to keep our sewers running, our water drinkable, our roads open and streets safe. For them a no-show is simply not an option."
About $400,000 will go to upgrade software in the city's finance department.
"The current software was purchased in 1985 and has not had any upgrades since 2010," the release from the city said. "New software would allow the city to streamline many manually performed tasks, increase budget knowledge for all staff and reduce errors in current systems."
Programs to address homelessness in conjunction with Yamhill Community Action Partnership will see an influx of $350,000: $200,000 would be used to support six months of operations at Navigation Center in McMinnville; $150,000 will go toward supporting motel shelter beds for those experiencing homelessness.
"YCAP spoke passionately and persuasively last night about its accessibility to Newberg residents, especially given the fact that matching funds are coming from the city of McMinnville and Yamhill County," Worthey said. "They also spoke to the location's general accessibility to foot traffic and our solid transport links to that community."
The city's information technology department will receive $176,000 to upgrade its technology, upgrade servers and install systems allowing staff to video conference and work remotely easier and faster. More than $40,750 will go toward increasing the city's technology security, allowing it to purchase software and hardware "needed to increase the city's security posture and meet the growing security demands of remote work," the release said.
An allocation of $24,343 will aid in the launch of a downtown gift card program in conjunction with the Newberg Downtown Coalition, Taste Newberg and the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce. The program, called Berg Bucks, allows one gift card to be purchased for use at multiple Newberg businesses and is administered by a third-party company called Micronex.
"Members of NDC will automatically be eligible to enroll in the program, while any other businesses whose headquarters are within the Newberg ZIP code 97132 will also be eligible to join the program," Worthey said. "Franchised businesses may participate in the program so long as the businesses exist and operate within Newberg."
Finally, $280,943 will go toward the purchase of air purification units and HVAC replacement at the request of the city's public works department. The funding will allow new units to be placed in 14 different locations in city buildings, as well as two new HVAC units in city hall.
"The portable air purification units kill up to 99.9995% of viruses in the air, including the virus that causes COVID," the release said. The HVAC units were last replaced 23 years ago.
Worthey said that, ultimately, ARPA's contribution to the community will be considerable.
"The overall impact of ARPA funding will be profound for Newberg," he said. "We will revitalize and modernize how the city does business in terms of its financial processes and ability to offer 21st century bill payments and customer service. We will inject huge amounts of cash into the local economy and deliberately keep much of it circulating here. We will help protect and improve the lives of many residents and especially the more needy and vulnerable folks in our community.
"In a nutshell, getting ARPA projects off the ground is exactly why we come to work every day. It proves that government can work and do so in a business-smart way."
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