City to receive nearly $7.8 million in relief funding

The interior of Columbus City Hall in Columbus, Ind., pictured Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, recently underwent a $177,000 renovation which included new paint and carpeting. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

COLUMBUS, Ind. — The city of Columbus is set to receive almost $7.8 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. However, local officials have yet to decide how the funds will be spent.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop said that the city wants to be “thoughtful and cautious” as it plans how to spend its $7.79 million allocation.

“It’s still rather new, and that’s part of our reluctance to say too much at this point, because we just need to make sure that we understand what the bill allows us to spend the money on,” he said.

According to the act, local fiscal recovery funds are to cover costs incurred by Dec. 31, 2024 in the following categories:

Responding to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 or its “negative economic impacts”

Providing “premium pay” to essential government workers or grants to employers of essential workers

Providing for government services “to the extent of the reduction in revenue of such metropolitan city … due to the COVID-19 public health emergency”

Making “necessary investments” in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure

Lienhoop said that the city will begin its decision-making process by meeting with financial advisErs from the Baker Tilly firm. These advisors will have studied the law and will be able to provide insight into what regulations there are for using the funds.

“Once we have a thorough understanding of what the money can be spent on, then we’ll sit down with department heads here in the city, and we’ll also sit down with some city council members to gain their understanding of what our needs might be,” Lienhoop said. “And from that, we’ll come forward with a list — maybe a short list, maybe a long one — of what we would propose to spend the money on.”

He said that this list will then be taken to city council for approval before expenditures can occur.

According to the act, areas identified as metropolitan cities, such as Columbus, will receive their allocations in two batches. The first is 50% of the allocation amount and is to be paid no later than 60 days after enactment. The second is not to exceed 50% of the allocation and is to be paid no earlier than a year after the first.

Lienhoop said that the city is taking a “cautious” path forward so as to avoid a situation where they would have to return funds.

“My understanding is that there are few strings, which is somewhat unusual for any federal grant program,” he said. “But what I have learned down through the years is that you don’t want to ever be in a position where you have spent the money in a way that they did not approve, because then you can be asked to return it.”

The act states that any city that fails to comply with the subsection on requirements for use of funds must repay “an amount equal to the amount of funds used in violation of such subsection.”