News that Loudoun County and its towns could soon see tens of millions of dollars in federal funding by way of the American Rescue Plan, with fewer strings attached than previous stimulus bills, has county and town managers and administrators planning and preparing.
Congress has set aside $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments in the ARP, and is expected to begin doling out initial payments within 60 days of the bill’s March 11 enactment date. A second payment, thought to be half of the jurisdiction’s funding share, is expected to be distributed no earlier than 12 months after the first payment. As of now, localities have until Dec. 31, 2024 to spend their awarded funds, considerably longer than the months towns, counties and cities had to use up their CARES Act funds.
According to a presentation from the International City/County Management Association, there are a variety of uses for these funds, including assistance to businesses, households or nonprofits, similar to its CARES Act predecessor; hazard pay for eligible workers; and for infrastructure improvements for water and sewer systems, and for broadband. Unlike with the CARES Act, some funding may be targeted for filling a “municipal fiscal hole,” according to ICMA, and would allow those funds to be unrestricted and used on any local government costs or purposes.
Loudoun County is expected to see $80,829,980 under the act, with a further $15,183,244 going directly to Loudoun’s seven towns and $13,285,000 for the Loudoun school system, according to projections from Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-VA-10).
Loudoun County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) during a virtual forum with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on March 26 said the first of two payments will go mainly to vaccinations. She said it the money also will go into rental assistance, business grants.
“Our businesses in the past have said that that money has staved off the closing of their businesses, and so that’s really important, especially for our touch businesses—so our hotels, our bed and breakfasts, our restaurants, our events planners,” Randall said.
It will also go to help nonprofits, pointing to the increased demand safety net organizations like food pantries have seen.
“Even in a county like Loudoun, which is a high-income county, a lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck, and they’re having a hard time,” Randall said. “So, we’re seeing a lot of our nonprofits give the relief that needs to be for people to keep just surviving.”
The second tranche of money, she said, will go more toward infrastructure, including broadband internet access.
Loudoun Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Howard emphasized that the pandemic has hit some people and businesses harder than others, and celebrated that the bill specifically targets industries like retailers and restaurants.
“It seems like a strange word to use, but it really has been unfair in the sense that we know in terms of the human impact, it’s been worse on different segments of our community—lower-wage workers, folks who are in those high-touch retail industries, different minority communities,” Howard said.
“We were one of the first industries to really eliminate and furlough and cut back a lot of jobs,” said Ford’s Fish Shack founder and owner Tony Stafford. “I mean, we cut back millions of jobs in the first few weeks of this pandemic, and now we need to re-hire every one of those jobs.”
Stafford, who during the pandemic has often served as the face of the Loudoun restaurant industry, also said it’s important to get restaurant employees vaccinated for the safety and comfort of themselves and their customers.
“I think we need to husband our resources, or guard them well,” Warner said. “I think this will be the last of the COVID relief packages.”
The Town of Leesburg stands to grab the largest slice of funding among Loudoun’s towns, with a projected $48.8 million, based on estimates provided by Wexton’s office. That number represents more than one-third of the town’s recently adopted Fiscal Year 2022 budget, and almost the entirety of its General Fund.
But Town Manager Kaj Dentler isn’t celebrating just yet, as rumors have already started floating that the projected estimates may not be the exact amounts each jurisdiction will receive. Dentler said he has heard an as yet unconfirmed report that Leesburg stands to receive substantially less than projected. According to Dentler, the Treasury Department is expected to make a final determination on amounts in May.
Dentler said he and his staff are drawing up a list of potential projects or initiatives to use the ARP funding. He plans to bring that up for discussion at the council’s April 26 work session, but does not anticipate a council decision on how to use the money until the summer. In the meantime, he and his staff are eying work being done by President Joe Biden and Congress on infrastructure funding.
“There is a chance that the Moving Forward Act (a $1.5 trillion bill in the House) or the potential Build Back Better Recovery Plan package (up to $3 trillion) will used community projects or earmarks to develop a list for allocating infrastructure funding. It is anticipated that [Leesburg] will be able to submit up to seven projects while identifying our top three projects,” Dentler said.
He said such requests would need to be coordinated through Wexton’s office, with a due date of April 29. It also will be discussed at the council’s April 26 work session, with a decision the following night due to the tight timeline.
Hamilton Town Treasurer Tina Staples said it’s looking like the town will receive $571,652, half in the next couple of months and the other half in 2022.Staples said the Town Council was expected to discuss the funding for the first time at its March 29 meeting.
Hillsboro Vice Mayor Amy Marasco said town leaders need to first learn how much funding the town might receive before discussing a spending plan.
Interim Lovettsville Town Manager Sam Finz said the Town Council is seeking more information on the funding before it makes any decisions on how to use the town’s allocation.
“The most important thing in my opinion when you are talking large sums of money to be spent to help residents and businesses in the town is that there is a plan and the plan is practical to ensure that the money gets spent for the purpose it was intended,” he said.
Middleburg Mayor Bridge Littleton said the town intends to use “a substantial amount” of the funding for continued community support programs. He said the town is holding off on making any decisions until the Treasury Department issues final guidance on how the town can spend the funds.
The Town of Purcellville expects to receive $9.2 million. Town leaders are planning to send out a resident survey to solicit input on how residents feel that money should be spent. The Town Council on March 27identified three areas of potential use for the money: to increase the capacity of the reservoir, to repair the six-decade-old iron water main that provides water to 50% of the town, and to pursue broadband initiatives.
Round Hill Town Administrator Melissa Hynes said town leaders are hearing the town might receive $1,000 for each resident, coming out to be a possible $589,000 in all.
Hynes said the Town Council has yet to discuss the matter, but possible expenditures include reimbursement of lost town revenue, grant funding for local businesses, funding for nonprofits that provide pandemic relief, other one-time pandemic-related relief measures and utility infrastructure improvements.
Hynes said the town has until 2024 to spend the money “so there is no rush to make a quick decision.” The Town Council is expected to discuss the funding allocation April 21 or May 5.