Millions of federal relief dollars started flowing to local governments this month, and Greenwood officials are mapping out what to do with it.
Part of the massive $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan relief package Congress passed in March allocated $350 billion to states and local governments to assist with pandemic-related revenue shortfalls.
Local governments in Johnson County received a combined $50 million, with Greenwood getting the most of all the cities and towns at nearly $9 million.
The city is required to put all the money into a separate fund, and send the U.S. Treasury a plan for how it will be spent, said Greg Wright, Greenwood’s controller. The spending plan was presented to the Greenwood City Council at its meeting earlier this month.
The plan remains generalized because city officials have not ironed out exact details about where the money will go. Generally, the relief dollars would go toward revenue losses, city center improvements, sewer infrastructure work and city employee stipends.
Nearly 30%, about $2.5 million, would go toward any current or future revenue losses as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
User-generated funding, which comes from events such as the Freedom Festival and summer concerts, and recreational services such as Freedom Springs Aquatic Center, took the brunt of the impact, Wright said. The city lost thousands from canceling the Freedom Festival and opening Freedom Springs later than normal last year.
“Any of those things where people would have come to it, but they couldn’t, we lost that money right up front,” Wright said.
Another concern is how much the city lost in tax revenue, which likely won’t be determined until next year when the state can come up with new revenue estimates, he said. Due to that, the city froze nearly all departmental budgets this year to play it safe.
“Longer term, our concern is we may see some decreases in the things like the gas taxes, income taxes, property taxes,” Wright said. “Those things tend to lag two years behind, so we won’t really even know probably until next year when we get into getting our revenue estimates.”
The largest chunk, $3 million, would go to HVAC upgrades at the Greenwood City Center, fire apparatus upgrades, and network and network security enhancements.
One of the challenges the city faced coming into this large amount of money was what exactly to use it for that is not already handled by the state or county. For example, one of the approved uses for the money is to fund testing and vaccination sites, contact tracing or enforcement of local mandates. Most of those are handled by the state or the county, not cities and towns, Wright said.
Greenwood found the most value in putting relief money toward improving technology at the city center and for employees working from home by paying for Zoom services and network upgrades.
“A lot of people were trying to work remotely, and what we found is that our setup was not sufficient to support as many people as we had trying to work remotely at the time,” Wright said. “We’re trying to bulk up our network so that if this happens again, we’re prepared.”
Updating the HVAC at the city center will increase safety as the pandemic continues, he said.
“At city hall, there may be things we could do to put in better filtration, so that would make it a safer place for both employees and the public to come in,” Wright said.
About $2.7 million would go toward projects to improve Greenwood’s aging sewer systems. Infrastructure improvements is a new approved expense that COVID-19 relief money could be used on, as past packages have not allowed it.
Greenwood has six sewer improvement projects lined up this year, totaling $56.6 million; $34.8 million of that money is going toward phase two of the Western Regional Interceptor sewer line replacement — the largest capital project in the city’s history — and $7.5 million will go toward replacing sewer lining.
The projects are part of a capital improvement plan to fix Greenwood’s troubled sewer systems, which prompted intervention from IDEM in 2012 after constant overflows became an issue. The COVID-19 relief money will be put toward offsetting some of those costs.
The smallest chunk of the remaining money, about $750,000, is planned to go toward potential stipends for city employees. This money could be divided out as one-time bonuses for city staff for working through the pandemic, Wright said.
This would be similar to how Hamilton County plans to use its $65 million in relief money to give $3,000 stipends to its 900 county employees. The details on how much would go to each City of Greenwood employee has not been determined.
The city council will review the spending plan two more times before a final vote at its June 7 meeting.
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Here is a look at how Greenwood plans to spend its nearly $9 million in American Rescue Plan money:
$3 million for HVAC upgrades at Greenwood City Center, fire apparatus upgrades and for network and network security upgrades.
$2.7 million to complete infrastructure projects that will expand water and sanitary sewer lines, and repair the city’s aging sewer system.
$2.5 million to recover revenues lost as a result of the pandemic.
$750,000 for premium pay stipends to city employees.
Source: City of Greenwood