Osceola Village Administrator Benjamin Krumenauer presented his recommendations for the village’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which will total just over $267,000, at the village board’s most recent meeting.
“This is $267,000 that we didn’t have before,” Krumenauer said. “And this is an amazing opportunity for us.”
The recommendations were broken down into four areas of community improvement.
The first, in no particular order of importance, is commercial revitalization. That’s followed by residential support, utility expansion and improvements and a strategic reserve.
In March President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion relief package into law, seeking to mitigate the lingering economic affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan Act provides large payouts to state and local governments, in addition to the direct payments made to American families. Wisconsin is set to receive nearly $10 billion as part of the ARPA, which will bring the state’s total coronavirus federal aid to roughly $19.9 billion, according to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Around $5 billion will go directly to the state, and Gov. Tony Evers will have the final say on how it’s spent. The state has already received around $2 billion as part of the CARES Act that was signed into law by the Trump administration, much of which was spent on COVID-19 testing programs and grants to small businesses and local governments.
All ARPA funds must be spent by 2026, but what this next wave of relief money can be spent on is a bit of a grey area. There is a general guide for where ARPA funds can be allocated, but Krumenauer said it leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
“Through this are infinite shades of grey,” he said. “So things can change. If we find out that we really can’t do (a particular program) with this money then we come back and say ‘Well let’s shift this money around.’”
As it stands now, the first area of focus for the village would be commercial revitalization. This could take the form of a loan program for commercial façade improvements throughout the village.
“We have an opportunity here to create a pocket of money to really help with facades,” Krumenauer said. “We would like to put $75,000 toward that program.”
Ideally, the initial investment would get the program off the ground, but the funds would be replenished as participating businesses paid back their loans.
“We envision a revolving loan program,” Krumenauer said. “The interest rates and things like that to be decided as appropriate. But I think it would be a revolving fund so we could try to seed that account with new money.”
Krumenauer said incentivizing façade improvements not only benefits the participating businesses, but the local economy as a whole.
“If a business doesn’t look successful, they’re not going to function as highly as they could,” he said. “When we’re driving down the road and we see a nice restaurant and one that looks shabby, which one may bring you in faster? That’s our thought.”
The second area of focus somewhat mirrors the first, but is geared toward private residences.
Krumenauer recommended $50,000 for residential support in the form of a loan or grant program.
“This funding bucket will function similarly to the business façade loan program and provide direct funding to help support residential improvements,” he said. “This can include direct grants or loans to help support residences that have been forced to stop home improvements.”
Eligibility based on income and other factors would still need to be worked out, and board member Deb Rose said she would prefer this portion to function more like a matching grant program.
“I would definitely lean more toward the possibility of maybe a matching program, rather than a loan payment,” she said. “Just so it’s one and done. If I’m going to have to pay a loan back, I’m going to just wait and do it a different way.”
Krumenauer recommended the largest portion of the funds, $100,000 to go toward utility expansion and improvements.
“While utility extensions and improvements aren’t the exciting ones, we have a need for that in our community,” he said. “And it’s a direct benefit to our residents.”
In addition to extensions and improvements, the village has an aging population of utility meters, many of which are difficulty for public works employees to reach.
“Replacing some of those helps save staff time,” Krumenauer said. “So there’s a direct correlation for village staff to save time, better spending our limited dollars somewhere else.”
The relevancy of village infrastructure to pandemic relief funds may seem like a stretch, but board member Brad Lutz said COVID put extra stress on the village’s systems.
“People were confined to their homes for a good six months, some still are,” he said. “There’s a considerable usage change with respect to the village utilities when you’re not gone from your house for eight or nine hours a day for your job. So this is how that becomes directly relevant.”
The forth and final pocket of funding recommended by Krumenauer is a strategic reserve.
“This program isn’t likely to be matched again,” he said. “So I would suggest the remaining balance go into a reserve account for the protection of this village and its infrastructure in the event that the pandemic comes back.”
As cases of COVID-19 increase nationwide fueled by the delta variant, the return of shutdowns and mask mandates looms over local municipalities once again. This reserve fund of $42,500 would act as a safety net should that happen in Osceola, and could be used for everything from safety equipment to maintaining virtual communication platforms.
“We want to put some in reserve,” Krumenauer said. “Because we simply can’t know the unknowns.”
The board unanimously approved these recommendations, but Krumenauer and the board stressed that these ideas are in their early stages and that the allocation of ARPA funds could change as the process goes forward.