One New Castle County Councilman is calling for the county to develop a strategic vision and strategy for spending its latest cash infusion of federal funds to aid in ongoing recovery efforts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
New Castle County will receive $108 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, provided in two $54 million installments one in 2021 and a second in 2022. Unlike CARES Act funds, when just the state and New Castle County received a portion of the funding, other cities and municipalities will receive their own share of funding from the federal government. Kent County is expected to receive $35 million and Sussex County could see as much as $45 million.
Councilman Dave Carter, who said he's read the more than 400-page $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act several times, said it gives local governments unprecedented spending flexibility.
"It's very innovative, giving a huge opportunity...to local governments to really allow them to set a vision and go after solving big problems that we haven't been able or had the resources to address in over a decade," he said.
He pointed to the county's bold plan using $19.5 million in coronavirus relief monies to purchase the Sheraton hotel at auction and turn it into the New Castle County Hope Center, an emergency pandemic shelter.
"Maybe, take a real hard look at our problems with affordable housing in New Castle County...can we look at something big, $20 or $30 million to actually make it possible for just as many to be able to get into houses permanently and avoid the homeless issue?" he asked.
He also suggested possible focuses on parks maintenance and issues surrounding violence.
"Maybe, take a huge, huge effort to look at some of the issues we have with violence in policing and merging them with big community development programs."
While the CARES Act funds were aimed at providing short-term quick relief, Carter said the American Rescue Plan funds, which must be spent by the end of 2024, open up a whole window of spending on more long-term opportunities.
"This is the first really big direct infusion of efforts to help the middle class in a generation," he said. "And now's the time for those of us in elected office to step up with visions and really take this opportunity to do big things--like we used to do--building interstate systems and upgrading all of our sewer systems around the country. We've kind of gotten away from that in this country, and it trickled down to lower government levels....and it's a chance for us to get back to us doing those really big things that really help so many people that we haven't done enough of in a long, long time."
Carter said federal funds will also flow separate from the American Rescue Plan money directly to the county, with a likely additional $38 million in emergency rental assistance and homeownership funds.
Carter cautioned against doling out the $108 million to simply do "good things."
"It just a really, really thoughtful plan, provided that those of at the local level do our due diligence and set a very clear vision and do it very strategically, and don't just hand it out to do good things that do a lot of good things for people, but don't make the big difference that we can make on some of the big intractable issues like some of the violence we have in areas our of county and some of the housing issues that we're struggling with."
Permitted uses of the American Rescue Plan Act funds include:
- Respond to the public health emergency with respect to the COVID19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality
- Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work
- For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue (i.e. online, property or income tax) due to the public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the county prior to the emergency (I.e. January 20, 2020), or
- Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said he plans to host a number of town hall meetings in communities to garner public input how the funds should be spent. The schedule of town halls hasn't been announced yet. County residents are also urged to weigh in on spending plans at Reimagine New Castle County.