by John McLoone The Hastings City Council will be discussing in coming weeks and months how to spend $2.6 million coming the city’s way via the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.0 …
by John McLoone
The Hastings City Council will be discussing in coming weeks and months how to spend $2.6 million coming the city’s way via the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.0 trillion economic stimulus bill.
Hastings could start getting funding from the program which will be distributed by the State of Minnesota – within two months.
City Administrator Dan Wietecha told council members at a workshop Monday evening that the spending deadlines aren’t as aggressive as they were for last year’s CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), which was used to help local business and to help the city adapt to doing business in the pandemic, where plastic dividers were necessary in buildings, Personal Protective Equipment needed to be purchased and hand sanitizing stations were installed.
“This is a big infusion of cash on Hastings. That’s what it is,” said Wietecha. “Give or take, I expect it to be about $2.6 million to Hastings. To a certain extent, we have time to work on this and decide what we want to do.”
Funds have to be expended by December 2024.
“There’s probably certainly some needs sooner as well as some things we do that might take time to work through,” said Wietecha. “I think we worked well with the CARES Act money and used it wisely but there was a certain hurriedness to it. We’d like to have some conversation early on so as a council you can have time to decide how best to use this in the community. Some of the discussion is going to be real broad. We don’t know the details of what’s permitted yet. We’re awaiting guidance from the US Treasury.”
Wietecha said the money could be used a little more broadly than the CARES Act money could.
“The law specifically says we can use it to replace revenue to the city. If we saw taxes go down or user fees at the aquatic center, we can recoup that money. It certainly helps out from a fiscal standpoint,” said Wietecha.
Money can’t be put in the city general fund to pay down property taxes. Revenue lost will be for the current year. The city can’t go back and recoup money lost with the aquatic center closed last year, for example. It can, though, compare this year’s revenue with revenue from 2019 and recoup funds for the current year with capacity limits affecting attendance.
Infrastructure improvements are encouraged with the funding.
“It specifically calls out investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure,” said Wietecha. “Certainly there are some infrastructure options that did not exist under the CARES funds.
“If there are things we may take on to improve remote work going forward, more of a long-term aspect, that certainly appears it would be allowed under the new American Rescue Plan.”
Putting plans in place for the funds does require staff hours.
“I think in talking with the county (Dakota County) and peer municipalities just a week ago, there’s a lot of feeling there are areas of overlap and duplication. The county sounds like it expects to take a pretty big role in housing assistance using these funds,” said Wietecha. “Is there a need for cities to step in and do housing assistance if the county’s already doing it? Does it make sense to step back and map this out a little bit.”
Wietecha said the funds will be coming into the city over the next 12-13 months.
“The city council has to have some conversations where our priorities should be,” said Wietecha.
Broadband expansion really seems to have caught the council’s attention.
“I think that it’s really exciting that the money has such broad parameters at this point.
“It is a considerable amount of money,” said Councilmember Tina Folch. She’d like to see about continuing on a review of types of housing in the city.
“For the last two years, that was the council’s number one priority, and it seems like it went to the wayside,” said Folch. “Another thing we talked about in the utility committee is broadband, strategic planning for infrastructure within our community. It would be interesting to circle back if we could use some of the funds for broadband infrastructure.”
Councilmember Jen Fox agreed.
“That’s something we can be forward-thinking about and be very intentional when we haven’t been able to be before. It’s such a great opportunity,” she said.
She’s heard from residents of 15th Street who are having difficulty paying their share of construction costs in front of their homes because of lost revenue due to COVID-19.
“I’ve heard from a few residents who are pretty upset with the price tag at this point,” she said. “This is a really great conversation to be having.
Mayor Mary Fasbender agreed.
“They are great conversations. We’re going to be talking in the near future about broadband. That will be a wonderful and needed discussion for our community,” she said. “Good conversations come with many conversations. It’s fun to have a little bit of money to help the community with, especially our community members and our taxpayers.”
The council will talk about it at a coming strategic planning session.
Another thing brought up was helping restaurants and bars with the cost of their licenses, or waiving them in whole. Wietecha said they total about $44,000.
“I think that’s a no-brainer in continuing to not charge for on-site liquor licenses,” said Folch. “All of our restaurants are in recovery mode. It makes me nervous. I think we don’t know enough how the next half a year is going to roll forward. I know the businesses affected by this really appreciate how helpful the council has been in the last year. It would be money well spent.”