DECATUR — Though the specifics must still be worked out, the Decatur City Council appeared to form a general consensus on how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
At a study session Monday evening, city manager Scot Wrighton laid out the options for spending $2.2 million remaining from the COVID-19 relief bill approved in December and the approximately $17 million the city will receive this year from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was approved in March.
The council appeared to agree that funds from the first bucket should go towards replenishing the city's general funds account, property acquisition and demolition as part of the city's neighborhood revitalization efforts and for other one-time costs, such as the gap to fund the construction of a new fire station.
"Neighborhood revitalization has been our stated top strategic goal for two years now and so I certainly feel that at least 50% of all of the funding should go to neighborhood revitalization," said Councilman David Horn.
Of the larger bucket, the council agreed with Wrighton's "recommendation that you put most of the money ... into the infrastructure category if the bill."
There are restrictions, mainly that the funds cannot be used to make pension payments or to provide tax relief. But, it is more flexible than past packages.
A year ago, the Herald & Review began to chronicle the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of people in different jobs and stages of life. We've checked in with the same group periodically to follow their journeys. Here's how they're doing now.
The funds can be used for costs associated with responding to the public health emergency, such as the purchase of personal protective equipment and providing rental assistance and grants to small businesses.
They can also be used to replace lost tax revenue and to make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Though other traditional infrastructure needs like roads and bridges are not included in eligible projects, Wrighton noted that "we have needs that well exceed any amount that we will receive from the federal government just in those three categories."
A number suggested for infrastructure was $13 million, the majority of the allotment but still far less than the $70 million worth of projects on the city's water and sewers project list.
Council members seemed particular keen on improving the city's broadband infrastructure.
"These are items that we will not get this kind of opportunity again," said Councilwoman Lisa Gregory. "And so I want to take advantage of that and I really want to see us expand our broadband to meet many of the items that were proposed in the study session."
Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said that "we have an opportunity here to make a real difference in this community in the lives of our schoolchildren," noting that "...it became so readily apparent that (the lack of broadband) made the divide between rich and poor so much further in this past year."
Councilman Pat McDaniel advocated for water and sewers, saying that "we got to take care of that" in order to attract more business and residents to the community.
Beyond infrastructure, about $6 million of the funds could go towards replacing tax revenue lost due to COVID-19, Wrighton said.
Governments are expected to receive half their allotment in the next few weeks. The second round of funding will not arrive until at least 12 months after the first distribution.
Decatur in total should receive around $35 million.