West Linn ponders uses for American Rescue Plan money
With local businesses struggling to survive the pandemic and various unfunded capital projects on its plate, the city of West Linn is weighing how best to spend nearly $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds over the next four years.
The West Linn City Council discussed parameters for spending the funds, which come from the multitrillion-dollar legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in March, and the needs of the community at a recent meeting Monday, Sept. 20.
Community Development Director John Williams told the council the city recently received the first half of the ARPA funds and will receive the second half next year.
Tribal, state, county and local governments across the country received ARPA funds based on their population. With a population under 50,000, West Linn will receive just over $5.9 million.
The city has until 2024 to decide what to do with the money and until the end of 2026 to make the expenditures.
Rules stipulated by the U.S. Treasury limit local government spending to five broad categories: public health response, mitigating negative economic impacts of the pandemic, premium pay for essential workers, replacing lost public revenue, and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Because the city of West Linn does not have its own public health department with significant programs or needs, Williams and staff recommended devoting a relatively small portion of the ARPA funds — no more than $250,000 — to this category.
The money could be spent on personal protective equipment and public facility upgrades that will protect workers and the public, such as screens, restroom upgrades and ventilation systems.
Williams and staff recommended designating more funds — about $500,000 to $750,000 — on mitigating the pandemic's negative economic impacts by granting assistance to small businesses and bolstering the tourism and hospitality industry.
Williams explained that the economic development investments from this category must be directly linked to the pandemic.
City staff is working with the West Linn Chamber of Commerce and Historic Willamette Main Street organization to identify the best ways to use these funds.
While he did not offer a specific date for when businesses could see these funds, Williams said the work could pick up when the city's recently hired business support specialist comes on board in the coming weeks.
"If you talk to small business owners in the community who've been impacted by the pandemic, they would welcome assistance sooner rather than later," Williams said.
Because the Treasury's guidelines for spending in this category specifically include tourism, Williams said some of this money could be used on the city's startup costs for reopening the Willamette Falls Locks.
This category also allows for funds to go directly to household aid like food, rent and mortgage assistance or housing services. However, because the city does not have any programs for these types of services, and generally expects them to be covered by state, county and federal government, staff did not recommend setting aside ARPA funds for this type of aid.
Williams told the council that staff did not recommend using ARPA funds for the third category, premium pay, which would provide extra wages to low-income essential workers who had to work in person during the pandemic.
Under the fourth category, revenue loss, governments can use ARPA funds to replace money they failed to bring in because of the pandemic.
Finance Director Lauren Briethaupt explained that although the city does not have much lost revenue due to the pandemic, the way the Treasury asks cities to calculate lost revenue would allow West Linn to use $1.7 million in ARPA funds as "revenue replacement."
Breithaupt said this could help fill the city's deficit in the general fund for the next biennium, which is expected to be around $2.4 million.
Water, sewer and broadband infrastructure work make up the final category of possible uses for ARPA funds.
Staff did not offer a firm recommendation for the ARPA allocation under this category, but noted it could be around $3.2 million, mostly dedicated to water infrastructure.
The biggest water project on the mind of the staff and council was the $16 million Abernethy Bridge water line replacement.
Public Works Director Lance Calvert explained that as the Oregon Department of Transportation improves the I-205 bridge beginning next year, the city will need to replace the pipe beneath the bridge deck, which supplies all of West Linn's water.
Calvert recommended using most of the ARPA infrastructure funds on this project, which already is designated as a federal project. He explained that because of requirements attached to federal funds, projects always prove significantly more expensive than projects completed with entirely local funds. For the city to be most efficient with its money, it should keep federal funds to one project, he said.
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