Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series exploring the American Rescue Plan’s impact on West Virginia’s cities and counties. An unprecedented $624 million in federal funding will be deposited directly into city and county bank accounts. Send tips about what your city and county are doing with this money to email@example.com.
Charleston officials have mobilized a committee and public input system to determine the best use for the city’s $37.81-million slice of President Joe Biden’s $1.9-trillion coronavirus relief package.
Half the money is scheduled to land in the city’s bank account no later than May 10, City Manager Jonathon Storage said during an April 14 meeting, the first gathering of an advisory committee on the American Rescue Plan, the name given to the massive bill Biden signed into law last month. The remaining half of the city’s take will come “[no] earlier than 12 months” after the first distribution date, Storage said. The money must be spent by the end of 2024.
The city has scheduled a series of public hearings starting Tuesday and running through May 6.
Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin’s hand-picked advisory committee includes 10 city council members: Joseph Jenkins, Bobby Reishman, Ben Adams, Becky Ceperley, Brent Burton, Mary Beth Hoover and Will Laird from the council’s Finance Committee; Parks and Recreation Committee Chairwoman Caitlin Cook and Vice Chairman Chad Robinson; and Environment and Recycling Committee Chairman John Kennedy Bailey.
Localities nationwide are awaiting guidance from federal treasury officials on how the money is to be used. Goodwin set some initial parameters.
“These monies we see are an investment,” the mayor said. “This is not a spending spree. This isn’t just a small pet project here or there.”
Under the law, communities must use relief money to help cover budget losses from the pandemic before spending. Business and occupation tax revenues missed projections by more than half at $43.9 million. Hotel and motel tax revenues also fell dramatically short. Liquor license, consumer sales tax and video lottery revenues also were impacted.
Committee members expressed interest in using the relief money to offset demolition, construction and business permits and fees as a way to spur local economic development.
The group also identified health and safety as a spending target. Goodwin made a presentation listing such needs as feeding the hungry and addressing drug abuse, homelessness, mental health, health equity and outreach and funding after-school and youth programs.
“If we’ve learned one thing through the pandemic — we are woefully deficient in our health outreach and our mental health programs,” Goodwin said. “This past year has taught us a lot about taking care of our children.”
She said the lack of grocery stores in the East End, West Side and other neighborhoods have contributed to growing health disparities in the city.
Committee members said some initial money should go toward projects from which the city can reap the benefits long after the rescue plan funding is gone.
“I’d like to see us, if we can come up with some projects that will provide funding in the future from now on, where we’re investing in something that’s going to be a payout from now on, basically,” Reishman said.
Congress is debating a massive infrastructure bill. Plans for water, sewer, broadband and stormwater projects should be developed now, but more money could be coming from Washington to cover that work.
“If we get lucky and it looks like that money is going to come from another source, we have Plan B for the next thing up on the list to fill in,” Bailey said.
Public-private partnerships are another possibility for infrastructure projects.
“[B]aked into the [law] is an understanding that local municipalities are going to be partnering with private entities to get these projects off the ground,” Storage said.
The city also might partner with Kanawha County, which will receive $34.5 million from the rescue plan, as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission.