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Smaller Tri-County Cities, Towns Eager To Get ARPA Relief Funds

Tanya Koonce
Peoria Public Radio

Many of Illinois’ smaller cities and towns will soon get their share of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, and officials from eligible Tri-County municipalities are looking ahead to how they can spend the money.

“Any kind of extra money is going to help, and that’s going to be a great shot in the arm for communities our size,” said Washington Mayor Gary Manier, whose city will get almost $2.25 million from the $742 million federal aid package to cover expenses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Gov. JB Pritzker’s office announced that more than 1,250 of the state’s small local government units can apply for their portions of the relief. The money will be distributed through the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund to cities, towns, and villages with populations under 50,000 that did not get direct aid from ARPA.

East Peoria is set to receive almost $3.1 million — an adjusted amount that’s more than $300,000 above what the city was originally expecting, according to Finance Director Jeff Becker.

“At this point, the city council hasn’t addressed yet what it’s going to be used for,” said Becker, noting there are restrictions on how the funds can be applied. “It will be a decision they will make once the funds are received.

“Lost revenue is one thing, so we could maybe capture some of that. There’s a lot speaking to addressing the pandemic, economic challenges that have come out of it, trying to strengthen and stabilize the local economy.”

Becker said when the city planned on how to weather the economic impact from the pandemic, it did so with no anticipation of receiving financial aid.

“The city took a pretty proactive approach last March and we redid our budget as soon as the shutdown started,” he said. “So, we took the original approach that (we) weren’t going to get anything, and we tried to do everything we could to live under that budget. So, the fact that we have this now on the back end is a positive.”

Elsewhere in the Tri-County, Morton is targeted to get about $2.21 million, while Bartonville, Chillicothe, Creve Coeur, Eureka, and Peoria Heights will each get between $700,000 and $900,000. The municipalities are expected to get the first of two installment payments next month.

Back in Washington, Manier said city officials there also are looking at the guidelines to determine ways to use its allocation.

“One is, if there’s any more business relief that we could do, or some start-up businesses possibly,” he said, adding capital projects also may be on the list of options. “We’re looking at a sewer trunk line expansion that we have to do. If you look at our east side, we have aging infrastructure with our water and sewer systems; most of the areas are probably 100-110 years old as far as water and sewer.

“We’re actually in a 20-year plan now and trying to spend about $1 million a year on upgrading streets, and if we could bump a couple of those streets up earlier that would be fantastic. So, we’re going to take a good look at it and see what actually qualifies for the funding that’s coming.”

Manier said some form of business relief is another possible use, but noted the city’s revenue base made it through the pandemic in a fairly strong position.

“We’re not dependent on people coming here to spend money, to sleep in hotels, and things like conventions,” he said. “Probably 19 out of 20 of our top sales tax generators were all still in business when this thing shut down, the first time and the second time. So, we’re actually, I think, for the last fiscal year that we just completed it, we’re probably some $380,000 in the black.”

Similarly, Peoria Heights Mayor Mike Phelan said the pandemic didn’t exact as crippling an economic toll on his community compared with others.

“We’re in a really good financial position, so it’s not like there’s a sense of urgency for us to get the money,” said Phelan, whose village is slated to get almost $785,000. “Believe you me, we can use it. But we really haven’t asked the board for the policy on what they want to spend that on. I’ll probably ask the administrator (Dustin Sutton) to give some recommendations first.

“We don’t have a lot of pension debt, and we ran a (budget) surplus last year and we’re running a surplus this year. So we’re just patiently waiting for that money when it finally comes.”

Phelan said the village doesn’t have any unpaid debts to reconcile, so the ARPA relief will serve as a bonus “sweet spot” to put toward purchases. Still, officials intend to act “prudently” with their aid.

“That’s a big chunk of money for us. We could put it in capital needs. We could put it toward the police or fire. We’re talking about doing some things infrastructure-wise for streets and sidewalks and neighborhoods. When the administrator knows more clearly how the money has to be spent, than he’ll come in and make some recommendations.”

Eureka Mayor Eric Lind said the Woodford County city is hoping to direct some of its approximately $718,000 into infrastructure projects.

“The big project that’s been in the back of our minds for many years is possibly adding a third well to our town,” said Lind. “So that’s something that may be considered for this, and then any money that’s left over will go toward general water, sewer and storm water projects likely.”

Like Manier and Phelan, Lind said Eureka has fared rather well comparatively over the past 16 months, and having to fall in line behind the larger cities was not an issue.

“At the start of the pandemic last year, we took a hard look at our budget and made sure that we were going to stay as conservative as possible and make sure that our spending was in line,” said Lind. “This money really was kind of unexpected for us, so (the delay) really didn’t create any hardships. It was not a revenue consideration or current budget matter as well, so really this just is extra money coming in for us to use for infrastructure.

“It’ll be great to have, and we’ll definitely jump start some of those projects that we’ve had on our radar for quite a few years that we were either collecting the funds for, or just don’t have the funds for at the moment. So it’ll help kind of push those along.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.