Fort Wayne City Council is expected to introduce an ordinance next week that, in addition to earmarking $7.2 million for infrastructure and a master plan for Franke Park, will authorize spending $200,000 for guidance on managing the city’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act money. Spending money to spend money might seem wasteful, but obtaining sound financial advice on use of the federal funds is wise.
The city’s $50.8 million share is just one part of the millions of dollars flowing here through cities, Allen County, schools, the airport authority and more. Coordination is the best way to maximize the effects of the much-needed funds.
“It’s not as easy as just ‘OK, we’re going to have $50.8 million, let’s just spend it,’ ” City Controller Garry Morr said in an interview Thursday. “We have to have a plan.”
He said nonprofit organizations are addressed in the federal guidance, for example, but some of those groups serve more than residents of Fort Wayne. Collaborating with Allen County government, which is set to receive about $73 million, will ensure the amount that might go to Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo addresses needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.
American Rescue Plan Act spending guidelines differ from the federal coronavirus funds last year, according to Stephanie Crandall, director of intergovernmental affairs for the city of Fort Wayne.
“That was a reimbursement basis. With the CARES Act, it really said, ‘What do you, as an entity, need to spend?’ ” she said. In addition, the allocation was funneled through the state, with the governor’s office determining the amount shared with local government. ARPA money goes directly to cities, school districts and other entities.
Morr said there are other sources of pandemic-related funds available, including $8 million for emergency housing.
“There are four categories with the ARPA funds,” he said. “One is water, sewer and broadband. We had a broadband project brought before us that seemed very logical, and the county was going to look at a portion of it. I mentioned that to the consultant we talked to, and he said, ‘Don’t spend that out of ARPA – there are funds the state has for that purpose.’ That’s why we need that kind of help on spending. We don’t have that kind of awareness. Then we can use that $50 million for other things.”
Crandall said the consultant will also assist in handling the extensive reporting requirements, including annual and quarterly reports and audit preparation. Funds must be obligated before the end of 2024 and spent by early 2026.
Morr said an initial meeting took place last week for representatives of cities and towns and the county to discuss spending. He also said he expects there will be ample opportunity for public input.
COVID-19’s effects won’t disappear with the end of the pandemic. It revealed weaknesses in the social safety net and disrupted a delicate economic balance. Area residents need help not only today, but support for the institutions that can serve them as long-term damage is realized. Maximizing investment in nonprofits, public health, small businesses, the arts and tourism and more is the best course.
The share sought for financial guidance amounts to less than half of 1% of the federal money. It’s a wise expenditure to ensure the community takes full advantage of the lifeline extended.
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