Jul. 29—Research and planning for possible ways Longmont city can spend a $12.97 million COVID-19 relief and recovery federal grant is still underway, city staff told City Council this week.
Also still being eyed closely, staff said in its Tuesday night council meeting briefing, are the kinds of things that would be eligible for Longmont to use in funding programs, projects, services and other pandemic-impact expenses. Also being scrutinized is what would not qualify for federally authorized spending under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and U.S. Treasury Department regulations and guidelines for how local governments can spend the federal money they're getting.
Staff did not propose any specific uses for the money or give a timeline for making its recommendations to the council.
City Manager Harold Dominguez said Tuesday's presentation amounted to one of "starting the conversation" with Council about how the money can, and might be, spent.
Dominguez said he'd heard there are already misconceptions in the Longmont community about possible uses of the money, based, he suggested, on national publicity of the American Rescue Plan Act as it was being considered, then adopted, by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.
Some people appear to think Longmont can spend its share of those federal funds "on almost anything," Dominguez said, but "the answer is, you can't.".
Peter Gibbons, Longmont's recovery manager and emergency management coordinator, said, "The fund is flexible ... but is not a blank check."
One of the slides in Gibbons' Tuesday night presentation quoted the U.S. Treasury Department as saying the funds being allocated to local governments are intended "to provide a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery."
Council members did not make specific detailed suggestions of their own on Tuesday about uses for the money, although several expressed support for spending some to address certain issues the Council had already identified, even prior to the pandemic, as needing attention.
Councilwoman Joan Peck suggested the city pair its goals for what it would like accomplished with the infusion of federal money with other, already existing city goals, such as increasing Longmont's inventory of affordable housing and addressing the impacts of climate change.
Councilwoman Marcia Martin said Longmont's "two most immediate needs" are affordable housing and the availability of child care for Longmont families.
Councilwoman Susie Hidalgo-Fahring said some of the money should be spent on extending broadband service to areas of the community where students and families need it for internet.
"It's no longer nice to have. It's essential," Hidalgo-Fahring said.
"I look forward to seeing more specific projects that the staff comes up with that are appropriate and eligible," Councilman Aren Rodriguez said.
City staff reported that generally, Longmont must have fully spent the federal money — or obligated that it be spent — by Dec. 31, 2024. However, the still-obligated spending on any of that money can continue, in some cases, through the end of 2026.
One concern raised during the Council's Tuesday night discussion was about the federal award being a one-time grant.
Rodriguez said Longmont should avoid creating any community or city government programs whose ongoing costs would continue after the federal money runs out.
Martin said, "We have to be able to sustain whatever enterprises we have taken on."