Tuesday, December 07, 2021
45.0°F

City begins process of determining how to spend federal relief funds

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | June 30, 2021 1:00 AM

Whitefish city officials are brainstorming ways to utilize the roughly $2.1 million the city is set to receive in federal relief money tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ideas on the list of ways to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds range from water and wastewater projects, to supplying grants to nonprofit organizations and business to providing funding for the city’s affordable housing program.

Finance Director Ben Dahlman said right now the city is gathering ideas from staff and City Council to figure out if and how certain items could be funded with the ARPA funds.

“Keep in mind these are designed to address the economic harm resulting from COVID-19 with the exception of water and sewer infrastructure projects,” he said. “We’re taking ideas and then trying to figure out if the funds can be used for that.”

City Manager Dana Smith said part of the process will be to get input on how to spend the funds.

“We want to hear from the community about where the funds are needed,” she said.

In discussing items on a list of potential options during a Council work session last week, Smith pointed out a grant program could allow lodging businesses to apply for assistance since they were forced to limit operations under city ordinance during the pandemic. Another idea is to fund the cleaning of sidewalks downtown as a means to reopening in a safe manner.

Council gave little direction for what items it wanted on the spending list except to identify affordable housing projects as a priority.

Lori Collins, executive director of the Whitefish Housing Authority, asked Council to consider providing funding for affordable housing.

“Locals and workers have been impacted exponentially when it comes to rentals,” she said. “The funds could be put toward the sustainability of our town. We need to be able to house people and workers. We feel like we’re losing our real town.”

As part of ARPA signed into law in March, local governments are receiving funding to respond to the COVID-19 health emergency and its economic impacts.

The city recently received the first distribution of just over $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

A list of potential options for the funding was outlined. Those included:

• Providing funds for the Edgewood Place reconstruction project for water, wastewater and stormwater pieces of the project to reduce the amount of resort tax funds used.

• Supplementing resort tax revenue that was reduced due to COVID-19.

• Supplement the parks and recreation revenues that decreased as a result of the pandemic.

• Work with the Whitefish Housing Authority on affordable housing options.

• Provide nonprofit, individual and business grants related to COVID-19 impacts.

• Assist the library with costs of sanitization for its public computers.

• Providing funding for hybrid meetings that allow for online access and in-person attendance.

• Purchase radios for the police department.

• Provide funds for short-term rental compliance and enforcement services.