Lindsay and Exeter discuss strategy over ARPA dollars

Lindsay and Exeter city staves offer options over how to spend their $3.2 and $2.5 million respective allotment from the federal American Rescue Plan Act

TULARE COUNTY – With so much money on their hands thanks to the federal American Rescue Plan Act, cities are trying to figure out what to do with it. Among Exeter and Lindsay’s top priorities are capital improvement projects.

Both cities have struggled to keep up their water and sewer infrastructure. Exeter has been open about their aging pipes and city manager Adam Ennis knows the struggle better than most. On his first day as city manager a major water main ruptured on Highway 65 that put downtown on a boil water notice for the better part of a week.

Lindsay city manager, Joe Tanner’s first day was not nearly as exciting. Although, two weeks after getting the job the entire state was told to shelter in place. But Lindsay’s water woes have been well known for years as the city struggles to keep up with repair projects for their city wells.

Exeter ARPA money

The city of Exeter received $2.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Ennis said the city will take a look at the city’s capital improvement project list and see where they can spend $1.33 million. Writ large cities need to identify where they want to spend their funds by Dec. 31, 2024, and then have it spent by Dec. 31, 2026. And then cities need to maintain any financial records for five years after they spent it.

But water projects are not the only thing Exeter is planning to spend their money on. The Exeter City Council wanted to make sure they gave city employees bonuses for working through the beginning of the pandemic as essential employees. However they did not want to spend the money in such a way that it would restrict the general fund.

According to Ennis the city can offer “premium pay payments” to city employees out of their ARPA allotment. He added that the finance department settled on giving employees two, $5,000 payments. One would be this month and the other would be in February. The total cost would be $425,000.

Exeter also decided to reimburse themselves for any “revenue loss” from the pandemic. Cities cannot spend the money on debt payments or unfunded pension liabilities, but they can spend it on anything that would otherwise be a typical general fund expense. Exeter determined that they lost $752,173 in revenue as a result of the pandemic and chose several places that money could be used.

During the Sept. 14 city council meeting Ennis said that the council could spend the money on IT (information technology) like new phones and other networks. He added that they could spend it on assessing city owned trees around town that may need to be maintained or removed. There is also a long list of facility maintenance projects that the city gathered before putting a 1% sales tax measure (Measure P) on the November 2020 ballot. Ennis said the city could consider fulfilling some of those which would help with facility improvements and security.

Ennis added that ARPA funds could help the police department replace their portable radios, another item listed as a part of going out for Measure P. The department has been submitting grant applications for them, but have not had much luck winning out.

Lindsay ARPA Money

Lindsay discussed what they would like to use their $3.2 million ARPA allotment for at their Sept. 28 city council meeting. Tanner said that city staff is going to recommend spending $1.4 million in their water fund, and another $600,000 in their sewer fund. With that money they hope to do something similar to Exeter’s approach and knock out capital improvement projects until the money runs out. Tanner added that investing in those projects helps keep rates lower for residents.

“Whenever the city does go out and does another rate study, this will definitely help keep the rates lower for citizens because some of these projects will have already been paid for,” Tanner said.

Tanner told the council that staff will be making a “strong push” to recommend spending $800,000 on investment for economic recovery. “I know that sounds like a large number,” he told the council before listing the ways Lindsay could spend the money.

“You know, we have a big vacant lot that is just north of the Savemart shopping center that’s been vacant for a long time. We can start marketing, those type of private properties in town, also start marketing the downtown,” Tanner added.

He said that other investments could be a resource center on Hermosa, and using a current building for that so the city could both fill a vacant structure, and refurbish it at the same time. Other uses could be grants for local businesses such as restaurants, which were among the hardest hit in the pandemic. He added that the city could put together a “loan to grant” program. Tanner said that, for example, the program could help a small business or a startup business that wants to renovate their store front and needs $25,000 to accomplish it.

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