City of Visalia to use fed funds to upgrade its digital infrastructure

Visalia will spend a quarter of its American Rescue Plan Act funding on hardware, software

VISALIA – While some cities are investing federal relief funds in traditional infrastructure, the city of Visalia is making investments into 21st Century infrastructure.

At its Dec. 20 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved its plan to allocate $29.36 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on a 4-0 vote, as Councilmember Brett Taylor was absent. Signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package included $350 billion in additional funding for state and local governments to help cities recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

“This is a rare opportunity to complete projects that have been recognized as important but set aside due to a lack of funding,” the staff report stated. “The proper use of this one-time funding allotment can provide a long-term, high-value return on our investment in our community.”

ARPA spending guidelines fall into five main objectives: Mitigate the spread of COVID-19, rebuild public sector capacity through technology infrastructure, strengthen vital public services, provide premium pay for essential workers, and invest in water, sewer and broadband, according to the US Treasury Department. The city reviewed these, took into consideration recommendations from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and aligned them with the city’s budget goals for fiscal years 2022-23 and 2023-24 to come up the spending plan. City projects fit into five main goals: Maintain quality of life for citizens; continue to improve infrastructure and replace capital; maintain financial stability; enhance city services; and facilitate and promote economic development.

The city will invest $2.9 million in software and $5 million in hardware but about half of the funding, $14.6 million, will be spent on public safety payroll as part of maintaining financial stability. The funding will cover payroll and benefit costs police officers, firefighters and paramedics during the last nine months of the pandemic. The next largest segment of the funding is for quality-of-life projects. The $6.7 million allocated includes $3.9 million on parks throughout the city. The park projects are wide-ranging and include arbor replacements, adding shade structures, adding or replacing bleachers, replacing playground equipment, and adding safety lighting. Other projects include the refurbishment of concrete basketball courts and new picnic tables at several locations. Updating these amenities promotes healthier living for citizens of every age. They promote outdoor recreation and spending time with friends and family in a safe environment.

“It is well documented that neighborhood parks are a foundation for the social, economic, environmental, and positive mental health of our communities,” the plan stated. “By caring for our parks, we are caring for our citizens.”

Some of the physical infrastructure upgrades will not be to upgrade water and sewer systems but rather to improve security for employees. The $3.4 million in infrastructure projects include additional plexiglass, office space expansion for the IT department with security doors, and keyless building entries at various city locations. It will also increase the safety of the city’s data with projects that range from backup batteries for the City network and offsite backup systems to cyber security insurance and the replacement of communications generators. Antivirus protections, document backups, extended fiber connections to the Animal Care facility, and compatible time-keeping systems are additional technology projects.

“These improvements to our overall technology infrastructure will be a high-level investment to support our city for years to come,” the staff report stated.

The city will spend another $4.2 million on enhancing city services. City departments have proposed projects including a kiosk check-in system for citizens visiting Visalia Police headquarters, a digital signature platform, Human Resources online testing which will reduce face-to-face interactions throughout the hiring process, enhanced remote access, video conferencing, Spanish interpreting software systems, and further implementation of online portals to receive payments for existing City services such as permits, business licenses, and animal shelter fees. To engage residents in the activities of city government at a higher level, two projects have been proposed which include upgrades to the city web site and modern social media broadcasting equipment.

“These will allow messages to reach our constituents in a easy, effective, and efficient manner,” the staff report stated.

The smallest portion of the funding, $470,000, will spend on promoting economic development opportunities. Developers searching for the perfect home for their business first need to have easy access to mapping tools to pinpoint the ideal location. Staff proposed a project that will allow real estate opportunities to be viewed and searched through an online portal using the City’s up to date geographic information systems or GIS. This would allow developers to easily locate available properties virtually in a COVID-safe environment.

The city received half of the funding on June 1, 2021, and will receive the other half by June 1, 2022. ARPA funds must be spend by Dec. 31, 2024 or allocated by Dec. 21, 2024 and then spent by Dec. 31, 2026. Any funds not obligated or expended for eligible uses by this timeline must be returned to the U.S. Treasury Department.

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