As the dust settles on the pandemic, city leaders ponder the best way to spend a huge injection of cash: $ 52.6 million in federal rescue dollars.
The first increment, $ 26.3 million, came fresh from Washington, DC last week, part of the $ 1.9 trillion American rescue plan law stopped by congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March. The second payment, another $ 26.3 million, is due in June 2022.
But here’s the catch. The city isn’t entirely sure whether the second pile will land – at least in its full form.
“There is a growing concern across the country, from mayors and cities in every state that the second 50% payment could be reclaimed from the federal government through legislative negotiations,” said Matthew Hawkesworth, the city’s chief financial officer, at a city council meeting last week.
People wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic walk past Pasadena City Hall on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (File photo)
Efforts to reduce funding have already started, officials said, who expect the trials to continue. In short, in a highly polarized setting on Capitol Hill, there is concern that the city may not see this second half and they have tried this week to include everything they could.
At the same time, there was resistance to this scramble as residents and elected leaders urged the city to take a much more “global” look at where this money is going.
Federal rescue finance itself has certain baskets that it has to go to. It can only be used to:
- Respond to the public health emergency or its adverse effects.
- Give key workers a reward during COVID-19 restrictions.
- Coverage of the city for services it could not afford due to pandemic-related revenue shortfalls.
- And / or for necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
Nonetheless, it has enormous potential in a city that has suffered significant financial losses in sales and tourism revenues, and almost one $ 900 million budget for fiscal year 2021-22 – a budget that needs to be approved by next week. Both the city Rose Bowl operating company and the Pasadena Center operating company Revenues plummeted during the pandemic.
Everyone agrees that federal funds are urgently needed. But how it is allocated is more complicated.
At last week’s council meeting, with budget deadlines looming, the urgency was seen building as members stood up on a number of points – amid community rejection – to commit federal funding to certain city programs .
These included the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau’s tourism recovery plan, a $ 475,000 infusion for hiring three employees as the city’s hospitality industry recovers from the pandemic. Officials see the funding as critical to bringing the city’s ailing hospitality industry back to health.
But several members of the public opposed it, fueling their continued pressure on the city to divert funds into housing programs, the health department and youth programs and away from police tourism and capital improvements, things they say the money is not supposed to cover.
“They find money for business, they find money for retail, but when it comes to housing programs and financing offers for the homeless, they always have difficulty finding money, or they just say they don’t have the money,” said Sonja Berndt , a housing attorney, warned the city not to go too quickly on a wish list of items to be funded with the rescue funds. “There is never money or crumbs for the poor, the weak, the marginalized.”
Berndt and others called on the city council to better include the voices of the citizens in the discussion about how to deal with federal aid money. And Berndt complained that such money goes back into the city’s general fund when departments like Housing and Public Health get relatively little of the funding pie compared to the city’s police force.
The result, she said, is that violence prevention, supportive housing, public health and community programs are coming under pressure.
The city council eventually approved $ 1.075 million in federal aid to go towards public health responses, public health improvements, and funding the visitor’s office.
But the council members also seemed to get the message that the decisions should not be rushed.
“I think we should have a more global discussion in the council, where we’re not just looking at the council’s allocation, but also how the county spends its dollars, how the state spends its dollars – on rent subsidies, for example – and trying to Strengthening areas that need strengthening while giving more input to the public and the council, ”Mayor Victor Gordo said at the June 14 meeting.
His colleagues seemed to agree.
“Fifty million is a lot of money,” said Councilor Andy Wilson, calling it “a golden opportunity” to decide how to spend it.
City officials offered a laundry list of items a framework for future funding, everything from a public health fund to offsetting parking fund losses to capital improvements related to housing support and infrastructure.
In response, the council decided to organize public workshops, as the city council’s finance committee also plays a role in creating a new framework. The priorities would eventually return to the entire city council for approval.
One obvious benefit is that most federal funding does not yet need to be budgeted, even though there are deadlines in federal legislation.
“The good thing is that some of us have been pushed back,” said Berndt. “We said, ‘No, let’s have an overall strategy, not a piecemeal thing.’ We need a kind of public relations work where the public can make comments. “