A game changer and financial relief are the terms used by the leadership of Calhoun County and the city of Battle Creek to describe the millions of dollars they will receive through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, released on May 11 Joe Biden was inducted into law by the President on March 8th.
Calhoun County will receive $ 26 million, and the city will receive just under $ 32 million, according to the National League of Cities. In addition, smaller counties in the county, such as the cities of Albion, Marshall, and Pennfield Township, are expected to receive grants from a $ 65.1 billion pool earmarked for more than 19,000 cities and towns across the United States. These funds are part of the American Rescue Plan Act worth $ 1.9 trillion.
Rebecca Fleury, Battle Creek City Manager“We are thrilled. This is a cornerstone for Battle Creek to stabilize its budget,” says Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek. “I would not have expected that during my tenure.”
Kelli Scott, Calhoun County Councilor, said, “It is definitely a sign of financial relief for local governments, including the county.”
As part of the U.S. rescue plan, the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund is providing $ 350 billion to states, parishes, counties, tribes, and territories, including $ 130 billion to local governments, evenly divided between parishes and counties. These funds will be released in two allocations, half in the next 60 days after the legislation comes into force and the second half 12 months after the first payment.
Fleury says she is awaiting further clarification on what the funds could be used for.
A local government has plenty of leeway to use the stimulus relief funds to, for example, bear costs incurred, replace lost revenue, or mitigate negative economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency. According to instructors and executives at the Michigan State University Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy.
Kelli Scott, Calhoun County Administrator“The funds can be used for water, sewage and broadband infrastructures. However, these funds cannot be used to support tax cuts or support pension deficits. Recipients’ local governments are required to provide the US Treasury Department with detailed records of how these funds have been used. The funds are to be spent by the end of the calendar year 2024, ”it says in their report.
“We have learned that these funds can be used for water, sanitation or broadband infrastructure, but they tell us we have to choose. That’s a nuance, ”says Fleury. “Due to the pandemic, it can be used as a substitute for income. The ARP law states that I must use the entire fiscal year before COVID as the basis for 2019. This becomes the basis for income and expenditure. “
Fleury says she’s focused on lost local income taxes this fiscal year, which is between $ 3 million and $ 5 million. “This has been heavily influenced by the number of teleworkers,” she says.
Nonresidents who work for employers like the Kellogg Co. or the Federal Center pay half a percent of the city’s income tax, while local residents pay one percent. However, with so many employees working remotely due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19, these non-residents didn’t have to pay this tax, and Fleury says the city is now considering refunds for individuals and employers.
“I need to make sure I have a good idea of the revenue replacement due to COVID,” she says.
Funding is provided directly by the US Treasury Department for all communities with a population greater than 50,000. The grant amounts are calculated using the CDBG formula, which measures population plus poverty plus housing instability. Municipalities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants receive their funding allocations from their respective federal states. These allocations are based on a simple per capita formula.
With a population of just over 51,000, Battle Creek was allocated $ 605 per person, according to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Calhoun County’s Emmett Charter Township of 11,627 residents received $ 99 per person.
Additionally, tribal governments are set to receive more than $ 20 billion, according to the National League of Cities. Judi Henckel, spokesman for the Nottawaseppi Band of the Huron Potawatomi in the municipality of Athens, says the tribe is waiting for more detailed information about their allocation and what it could be used for.
Scott says the majority of towns and cities, including those in Calhoun County, received about $ 100 per inhabitant, with the county getting about $ 200 per inhabitant.
“We’ve built much more formal and closer relationships with other communities and nonprofits,” says Scott. “All of the towns and cities in the county are receiving millions of dollars. We owe it to our community that the resources work strategically and in a coordinated manner for all. We know who to involve now and who best understands the needs of our residents. We will be able to use these funds to ensure the county government is stable, and we will work with other local governments and nonprofits to ensure the economic health of our community. “
Funds allocated under the American Rescue Plan can be spent over a period of three years. Scott says this will give time for the county leadership to figure out how to most effectively maintain financial stability while serving the public and addressing their ever-changing needs.
“We know some companies survived and some didn’t,” says Scott. “We will examine how communities will advance their economic development projects and housing needs. We know there is a great need for broadband infrastructure and we are focusing on it nationwide. The ability to respond to changing needs was enhanced during the pandemic. We didn’t have additional funds to invest in such needs. “
Other areas to consider include district workers who need to work remotely or who need flexible schedules to take care of their families. Scott says the remote working practices that began during the pandemic have shown fewer people have to work together in the same offices.
She also says there is a need to address a health needs backlog created by a focus on ensuring residents get their COVID-19 vaccines.
“These funds will give us much-needed resources to better assess these needs,” says Scott. “This is a direct response to the economic impact on our services due to lower revenue. The challenge will be to make sure we don’t use these funds to increase the current budget. We will be careful to acknowledge this and look long-term and wonder if there are ways to work with the wider community to make investments now that will pay off later. “
Like municipalities across the country, Scott is preparing for the impact of reduced revenue from a loss of property tax revenue, but doesn’t yet know what it will look like.
“Almost 50 percent of our operating income comes from property taxes. Individuals and businesses are struggling during this pandemic. How quickly they recover has a lot to do with the total income and property tax that the county receives, which is the result of the core values. We will watch unemployment indicators.
“It is helpful to examine the impact of reduced revenue and other resources used in direct response to COVID.”