Tulare begins talks on ARP spending

With half of their over $18 million in American Rescue Plan funds in-pocket, Tulare begins talks about spending, seeks public input

TULARE – The Tulare City Council received a presentation on the American Rescue Plan monies and the guidelines on spending at their Aug. 3 council meeting, beginning the first formal talks about what to do with the over $18 million in relief funds and setting a timeline for public input.

The American Rescue Plan Act—signed into law by President Joe Biden in April—includes a whopping $1.9 trillion in emergency relief from COVID-19 impacts for local governments, businesses, individuals and homeowners and renters. The city of Tulare is to see over $18 million from that pot, $9,012,034 of which is in-pocket as of July 6. The other half will be allocated a year later.

As of now, Tulare residents will have two opportunities to give their input on how to best use the ARP relief funds at Sept. 20 and Oct. 19 public hearings. While specific rules are not set in stone just yet, the presentation to council—given by Richard Harmon of Townsend Public Affairs—outlined guidelines for eligible uses of funds as follows:

Public health response: ARP funds may address a broad range of public health needs across COVID-19 mitigation, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare and public health resources.

  • Services and programs to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19
  • Services to address behavioral healthcare needs exacerbated by the pandemic
  • Payroll and covered benefits expenses

Negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency

  • Delivering assistance to workers and families
  • Supporting small businesses
  • Speeding the recovery of the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors
  • Rebuilding public sector capacity
  • Serving the hardest-hit communities and families by addressing health disparities, investing in housing and neighborhoods, addressing educational disparities and promoting healthy childhood environments

Replace lost public sector revenue

  • Allow local governments to continue to provide valuable public services and ensure that fiscal austerity measures do not hamper economic recovery
  • Recipients compute the extent of their reduction in revenue by comparing their actual revenue to an alternative representing what could have been expected in the absence of the pandemic
  • Recipients have broad latitude to use funding to support government services

Premium pay for essential workers

  • Many essential workers have not received compensation for the heightened risk they faced and continue to face
  • Recipients may use funding to provide premium pay directly or through grants to private employers or to a broad range of essential workers

Infrastructure investments

  • Drinking water infrastructure projects, such as building or upgrading facilities and transmission, distribution and storage systems
  • Wastewater infrastructure projects including treatment infrastructure, stormwater and water reuse
  • Broadband infrastructure and efforts in areas that are unserved or underserved

Ineligible uses of ARP funding include offsets in reductions to net tax revenue due to a change in law since March 3, 2021, pension fund deposits, debt service or legal settlements or judgments, rainy day funds or financial reserve deposits and general infrastructure not specifically authorized—water, wastewater and broadband.

“When they leave it open to, ‘can you make a nexus or an argument for how the pandemic impacted this,’ no matter how good your guidance is, it still opens things up to being creative, which is a good thing, and I think it is probably what congress and the president intended,” Harmon said. “Every community is unique, their impacts were unique. Especially if there’s long-standing disparities that caused harsher impacts in certain areas, how can we help address those?”

Tulare City Manager Rob Hunt said one of his concerns is staffing and record-keeping—timely record-keeping and reporting is required by the federal government—and advised the council to consider hiring the services of a consulting firm.

“$18 million dollars—in order to spend that you’re going to need project oversight and staffing…the [city] project management staff, they’re doing [sewer and water] projects in the neighborhood of $3 to $5 million a year, you’re going to almost double that depending on what level you decide to do,” Hunt said. “In order to deliver these on-time and within budget, it’s going to take some effort over the next half dozen years.”

The feds require a report on planned use of funds by the end of 2024, and expenditure of funds by the end of 2026. Tulare is shooting to have a final plan adopted by Nov. 19, 2021.

Woodlake looks to invest in water

Woodlake is expected to receive just shy of $1.9 million in ARP funds over the next year, and city staff has indicated they would like to focus on using the funds for water infrastructure. At the top of city staff’s list for the use of ARP funds is the addition of a new well and storage tank. The city has already received its first allotment of $915,978, and City Administrator Ramon Lara said the council was receptive to using the funds towards water infrastructure.

“Probably over the next few weeks we’ll really narrow down a specific scope of the project to know exactly what we’re going to do with it,” Lara said. “We are going to focus on water it looks like, I think it’s a matter of where specifically in our water system, whether its water storage or pumping capacity, or maybe a little of both.”

At the Aug. 9 city council meeting, Woodlake’s city council members received an update from city staff on the drought, stating the St. Johns and Kaweah rivers will no longer have running water. The report states that August through October will be the most critical months for the City’s water table, and the depleted rivers will eliminate recharge in the area while water demand continues to increase with high temperatures.

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