PARKERSBURG – With more than $ 22 million in American Rescue Plan funds flowing into the city of Parkersburg this year and next, discussions are ongoing about how that money will be spent.
“I hope the Council will agree to use these funds to have the greatest community impact and the longest impact.” Mayor Tom Joyce said.
Officials are working to understand the rules for using the money from the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout plan passed by Congress in March. They’re listed in a tentative closing rule that Joyce said could still be changed and updated.
Permissible uses for the funds are:
* Assisting households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
* Providing bonuses to key workers during the public health emergency.
* Paying for government services impacted by COVID-19-related revenue declines.
* Make necessary investments in water, sewage or broadband infrastructure.
Using the money in the Parkersburg Utility Board’s planned water system improvements could reduce the rate increase required to pay for the work.
“I am shocked when the city council does not provide funding to the utility board.” said Joyce, who as mayor is the chair of the PUB.
Continuing with recent improvements in rainwater is another use Joyce would like to pursue.
Infrastructure projects provide jobs and the money is then recycled when it is spent in the community, Joyce said.
“I am in favor of bringing as much money as possible to the workers and companies that can be helped.” he said.
The mayor said he felt for people who lost their jobs and were unable to work due to the pandemic, but support such as increased unemployment benefits was available for them.
“When was the last time there was a federal program that rewarded people for going to work?” he said. “I think there is an opportunity to offer something to these people.”
It will be up to the council to determine which forum will discuss the issue and how the public can weigh itself, Joyce said.
“What we are doing now is just trying to educate ourselves about what we can and cannot use the funds for.” Council Chairman Zach Stanley said. Once the final guide is published, “Then we’ll work on how we get feedback.”
Some people have already started offering ideas.
During the council meeting on Tuesday, Kim van Rijn, who lives in Parkersburg, suggested that the city hire a director for cultural development to support organizations “They urgently need help if they want to survive.” The person could help write scholarships and raise funds for facilities such as the Sumnerite Museum on Avery Street, the Oil and Gas Museum, and Parkersburg Homecoming.
While tourism is an industry that is eligible for funding, it is not clear if funding such a position would be an acceptable use of the money.
The funds cannot be used to offset lower tax rates, but Charles Roberts, who lives outside the city limits, asked during the public forum if it could be done instead “Get rid of the usage fee.” If that is not possible, the city must diligently deal with the money that ultimately comes from taxpayers.
Joyce said the city will comply with all federal regulations on the money and it can be checked through an audit. The West Virginia Auditor’s Office has put in place mechanisms and tools to help cities, he said.
Around half of the funds will not be available until 2022. Joyce warned against tying up all of the money before the full economic impact of the pandemic is known. Federal guidelines shared by the office of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. state that the reduction in revenue can be calculated at four different times: December 31, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.
“This approach recognizes that some beneficiaries may experience the delayed impact of the pandemic on revenue.” the document says.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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