LIMA — Lima and Allen County should be receiving big checks from the federal government soon, so they’re starting to consider “major, ambitious plans,” as Lima Mayor David Berger put it.
Lima is due to receive an estimated $26.6 million as part of the American Rescue Plan earlier this month. Allen County estimates it will see $16 to $19 million.
The first half of the money could be arriving within 60 days with the rest about a year later, but the decisions on how to spend it might be well down the road.
“I don’t expect we’ll have clarity on the rules probably until July or August,” Berger said. “We’re all going to be kind of waiting to understand exactly what they are. We’ve been talking internally about major, ambitious plans.”
Unlike the money received during the CARES Act, the money this time around can be invested in “infrastructure.” It’s a broad word that could mean anything from working on a water-pipe study of Lima’s old pipes, investing in housing initiatives to investing in a replacement for Schoonover Pool, which won’t reopen again this year.
Berger compared the potential outcomes to the Lima schools’ $100-plus million investment in the city 20 years ago, when officials chose to “transform what was the worst neighborhood in our community into what is now the canvas for the new high school.”
While Allen County has its share of big possible projects, Commissioner Cory Noonan was more reluctant to dream too big right now. He’s not sure how stabilized the economy is yet, and with the county getting 60% of its funding through sales tax, another downturn in spending could be challenging. The numbers of the federal money are a bit foggy for the county, as commissioners don’t know the exact impacts from changes made in the version that ultimately passed.
The commissioners itemized their wish list three years ago when they asked voters for a 0.2% sales tax increase, which voters rejected.
“There are a great deal of capital needs that we discuss on a regular basis on how we could fund those,” Noonan said. “There’s obvious needs, but by no means do we want to get the cart before the horse.”
Townships in the region appear to be left out of the American Rescue Plan, although the Ohio Township Association said in a press release Wednesday it’s continuing to work with Ohio’s congressional delegation to clear up the “widespread confusion over whether or not Ohio’s 1,308 townships are directly eligible for this crucial funding.”
The American Rescue Plan earmarks $350 billion, or nearly one-fifth of the total price tag, for state and local fiscal recovery funds.
“The stakes are high. The money needs to move fast and be deployed smartly and equitably,” according to a report by Brad Whitehead and Joseph Parilla for the Brookings Institute. “In 10 years, we may look back at this time and ask: Which places merely spent their money, and which places invested it?”
Brookings recommended governments focus on stabilizing, strategizing and organizing with the money.
Berger and Noonan agreed that it’s important for communities to understand the rules and be ready to act quickly once they’re clarified. In the county’s case, it could be to be more ready the next time a pandemic-like crisis hits.
“That is one of the priorities for me, to try to provide that preparedness for the next time something happens,” Noonan said.