On Tuesday night, at separate meetings, Bloomington and Monroe County’s governments took their first step towards sorting through a spending plan for a local total of about $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, to help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bloomington and Monroe County estimated shares of the ARPA are about $22.3 million and $28.8 million, respectively.
At a 6 p.m. meeting, Bloomington’s city council got a briefing from mayor John Hamilton with his sketch of four possible “buckets” to which around $19 million worth of projects could be assigned: revenue replacement; public infrastructure; housing insecurity; and jobs and economic recovery.
Hamilton framed his priorities in terms of two key considerations: equity and sustainability.
For the county government’s part, at Tuesday’s regular county council work session, which was joined by county commissioners, the four spending categories considered were those spelled out in the ARPA itself:
- To respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, non-profits, and impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality;
- To respond to essential workers during the COVID-19 emergency by providing additional pay or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who provide essential work;
- The provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to COVID- 19 (comparing to 2019 revenues);
- To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure;
Hamilton’s revenue replacement “bucket” looks like it replicates one category of eligible APRA spending.
Hamilton’s public infrastructure “bucket” includes the word “infrastructure,” like the ARPA’s fourth category. But the description of Hamilton’s public infrastructure item includes LED conversion of streetlights and construction of sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, which aren’t mentioned specifically in the ARPA.
About the allowable infrastructure investments, Hamilton told the city council: “My hope is it will be quite flexible. And I expect it will be quite flexible, including allowance for certain kinds of a lot of infrastructure.”
Hamilton’s public infrastructure “bucket” includes projects estimated to cost between $2.8 and $4.7 million. [Shared Google Sheet compiled from memo]
Hamilton’s other two “buckets”—to address housing insecurity, and jobs and economic recovery—look like they would need to be analyzed as fitting into the ARPA’s eligibility for assistance to households, small businesses, non-profits, and impacted industries.
Hamilton’s memo to the council points to uncertainty about the project eligibility requirements: “We await details and regulations for spending and other reporting requirements, but it is not too early to begin considering together how best to invest this one-time—and potentially transformational—funding for our community.”
A common main theme for both city and county officials was that the top priority should be revenue replacement.
On the city’s side, controller Jeff Underwood pointed to several funds that had seen diminished revenues in the pandemic year, including parking revenues, parks and recreation programs, and the street funds.
Responding to a request from councilmember Sue Sgambelluri, Underwood said he would provide a summary of some of the impacted city departments. The information is available through the annual reports in the state of Indiana’s Gateway for local government information, Underwood said.
Extracted from Gateway by The Square Beacon is the following non-exhaustive list of line items in the annual reports that showed revenue declines for Bloomington from 2019 to 2020.
Examples: Bloomington Revenue Reductions
|Unit Fund Name||Receipt Name||2019||2020||Decrease|
|Parks Non Reverting Operating||Park and Recreation Receipts||$1,797,266||$1,125,393||$671,873|
|Parking Facilities||Parking Receipts||$1,082,664||$644,284||$438,380|
|Parking Meter||Parking Receipts||$2,817,340.18||$1,514,181.22||$1,303,158.96|
|Alternative Transportation||Parking Receipts||$459,905||$334,323||$125,582|
|Non Reverting Telecom||Cable TV Licenses||$731,482.64||$653,136.93||$78,345.71|
|Motor Vehicle Highway||Motor Vehicle Highway Dist||$1,730,360||$1,385,364||$344,995|
|Food and Beverage Tax||Food and Beverage Tax||$2,990,264||$2,505,194||$485,070|
In Hamilton’s memo, the estimated range of ARPA spending that might be put towards revenue replacement is between $3.5 million and $7 million.
At the county’s meeting, councilor Geoff McKim presented to his colleagues a list of items that he thinks showed diminished revenue due to the pandemic.
Examples: Monroe County Revenue Reductions
|1176 – MVH||$5,074,655||$4,649,791||$424,865|
|1178 – Parks Nonreverting Capital||$45,545||$16,037||$29,508|
|4801 – Aviation Construction||$103,019||$96,324||$6,695|
|4802 – Aviation Building||$35,685||$23,443||$12,242|
|7304 – Innkeepers Tax Collection||$2,769,276||$1,638,281||$1,130,995|
County commissioners and county councilors alike pointed to the importance of including the public in the decision making about how to spend ARPA money.
Council president Eric Spoonmore said, “I’ve been surprised at how little I’ve heard from constituents about the American Rescue Plan, considering how massive this funding package is. It is surprising to me that I’m not hearing questions about it yet.”
County councilor Marty Hawk said: “I think the public’s going to help us with a lot of their suggestions. But it’s important that we understand what the rules are. Because it’s clear we have to pay it back, if we spend it in ways that we’re not allowed to.”
The county council had one taker for the public comment period that was offered on ARPA.
No chance for public comment was offered at the city council’s meeting.
After Hamilton’s presentation, city councilmembers floated their ideas for spending the APRA money. Steve Volan expressed his support for constructing a kind of tiny house village for the houseless, calling it semi-permanent housing. “We need some semi-permanent housing in town,” Volan said.
Councilmember Matt Flaherty echoed some support for Volan’s idea about tiny houses for the houseless. Flaherty also suggested constructing public restroom facilities that could be used by those experiencing homelessness.
Responding to the idea floated by some other councilmembers to establish a land trust, Flaherty was not sure it’s necessary to acquire additional land to construct permanent housing for the houseless. Currently available land, Flaherty said, includes the “greater campus” footprint of the planned convention center expansion.
The convention center expansion, Flaherty said, “needs some very critical thinking in a kind of changing and evolving world.”
Flaherty continued, “It’s a pretty carbon intensive industry. Our economy is already really reliant on tourism. I’m not sure if doubling down makes sense and expanding in the way that we initially thought makes a lot of sense.”
Flaherty said that the land that’s been set aside for the convention center project is “a prime location for community land trust, housing purposes, where we could ideally have, affordable, owner occupied units.”
Councilmember Ron Smith called for daring action: “We need to do something big and bold with housing. …We need to make this a statement.”
Smith’s specific big idea: “I would propose: Let’s take $20 million. Let’s help people [of lower income levels] buy homes.” About 2,000 could be helped that way, Smith said.