Council considers allocation of ARPA dollars

A distribution plan for Cottage Grove’s $2.3 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds was presented to the city council on Monday, though no decision on how to allocate the dollars was decided. The council voted unanimously for a “standard allowance” option, which broadens fund expenditure eligibility.

The ARPA funding is part of a nationwide $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and economic recovery plan. Cities receive their funding over two distributions. The City of Cottage Grove received its first tranche of a little more than $1.1 million last year and the next is expected to arrive within the next couple months.

The city’s first report of how this money will be spent is due in April. All funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.

The city council held a work session on Oct. 22 last year to discuss how to use these dollars, though new rules on eligible expenditures have since been passed down and offer more flexibility.

Most significant for Cottage Grove was the option for cities to use a “standard allowance” for determining replacement of lost public sector revenue. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is now allowing governments to use up to a $10 million standard allowance to fund government services.

Local governments may use this standard allowance in lieu of calculating revenue loss with the formula prescribed in the Treasury’s Interim Final Rule. They can choose to use either the standard allowance or the revenue loss calculation, but not both.

Notably, the ARPA funds could not be used for street maintenance or construction under the previous rules, unless a government could prove loss of revenue. Using the standard allowance, Cottage Grove will be able to use its federal dollars for any general government operation. It will also streamline reporting requirements.

Based on this change in rules and ideas from the council’s previous work session, city staff compiled a list of 13 items and distribution amounts for the council’s review. The list was described as a “rough budget guide” for reporting purposes of the ARPA funds, but, “We’re not locking anything in here,” said City Manager Richard Meyers.

The list was an attempt to “spread the ARPA funding throughout the community and address a number of infrastructure or program needs,” according to the council memorandum.

The 13-point funding plan included the following:

• Broadband development, increasing capacity and replacing equipment: $200,000

• Wastewater treatment; Biosolid system upgrades to design and engineer improvements for drying and addressing biosolid process: $100,000

• Wastewater reuse pipeline installation: $100,000

• Street maintenance, reconstruction: $400,000

• Water reservoir assist in construction: $140,000

• Low-income housing, property, development: $350,000

• Federal Qualified Health Clinic: $100,000

• Community tourism, promotion, economic development: $160,000

• Homelessness, sheltering and program: $575,000

• RAIN funding: $42,000

• Replacement of Bohemia Park saddle span: $70,000

• COVID response: $60,000

• Development of mobile crisis response program: $25,000

Councilors Chalice Savage, Mike Fleck, Jon Stinnett and Greg Ervin declared potential conflicts of interest due to their various connections to nonprofits, groups and businesses which could hypothetically benefit from this vast distribution of funds.

Ervin spoke about the city’s core responsibilities, pointing to broadband, wastewater improvements and streets as clear examples, but questioned if the others on the list were of primary concern.

“We have to be excellent at what we do and what our core responsibilities are,” he said. 

Fleck suggested it would be a good idea to put off the topic until after the city’s town hall on homelessness on April 5, after which the city would have a better idea of how money will be allocated to deal with that issue.

Discussion then revolved around reasons for certain allotments on various items, but no specific numbers were suggested for any one item.

“We’ll be coming back with more specific stuff as we move along and that can change,” said Meyers, adding, “I do want to stress we do need to be looking at these numbers and seriously consider how we’re going to use this. This is a tough decision.”

In other council news:

Clarifier Rehabilitation

Following a staff recommendation, the city council awarded a contract to bidder ClearStream Environmental to replace a mechanism on one of the city’s wastewater plant clarifiers.

The bid was awarded for $433,770, the second cheapest of the options.

Clarifiers separate solids from wastewater. Though there are two at the plant, the oldest was constructed 39 years ago and, after inspection by West Yost Associates consultants, it was determined it was in need of overall rehabilitation and a mechanism is in need of replacement.

Maintaining redundant clarifiers becomes more crucial during seasons when the plant has greater intake.

The new clarifier equipment will include a stainless-steel column that supports two steel arms in the clarifier to scrape the wastewater solids to the collection point on the bottom of the concrete clarifier basin. 

Among its options, the city could have opted for a cheaper coated carbon steel column.

“While the coated carbon steel may save the city money in the short term, the stainless-steel center column will last longer in a wastewater environment as well as greatly minimize wastewater crew’s maintenance over the long term,” stated the memorandum. 

Anthony Tartaglione, Engineer of Record for the clarifier project, confirmed that the city would expect to drain its new clarifier down every 10 years in order to hire a contractor to sand blast and recoat the carbon steel column. This would costly roughly $50,000 each time, for a total cost of$150,000 (in 2022 dollars) over 40 years.

On the other hand, the stainless steel would not need this maintenance and would have a cost difference of $12,400 over the carbon steel.

ClearStream Environmental also included an escalation clause in their bid, noting that the volatility of steel prices could cause their own prices for steel to significantly increase.

‘Streatery’ Survey

A review of Cottage Grove’s “streateries” has found generally favorable opinions of the structures, which were part of a two-year pilot study. Councilors unanimously voted to extend the program by two more years and then open up a lottery for other downtown businesses which would like use the structures.

Streateries are designated dining or relaxation areas on street parking spots, generally in front of a food or beverage establishment. In 2020, the city issued three permits for these streateries in parking spaces adjacent to downtown restaurants.

The stated intent of the project was to support “the downtown business community by creating a more attractive commercial corridor, attracting new businesses, fostering social engagement, and providing enhancements that contribute to livability and beauty of the historic district.”

The same year, the city received $30,000 in grant funds from the Oregon Tourism Commission, which helped the city construct and place streateries at each location, greatly saving money and time for each business.

In January through early March of 2022, city staff distributed questionnaires to downtown businesses and citizens. Thirty-six questionnaires were collected and two emails were received.

Overall, 58 percent of respondents gave the streatery program high marks. Among business owners themselves, 56 percent believed the project was beneficial.

The vast majority of respondents (71 percent) said they thought the program should continue. 

A little more than half thought streateries had a low impact on parking.

Councilor Fleck, who had initially been very skeptical of the program due to traffic and safety concerns said most of his worries had been allayed as the structures were safer than other examples he’d seen.

His only remaining concern was parking, he said, but was favorable to extending the program and opening a lottery for the streateries up to other businesses at that point.

“But I would not want to see more than one on each block,” he added.

Regarding parking, Councilor Savage also weighed in: “I personally don’t feel like we have a parking problem downtown. I think that we have an enforcement problem downtown. There are people that live and work and play downtown that park longer than two hours. And I think with accountability, there will be no parking issue.”

City Manager Meyers pointed out that some law enforcement personnel had recently left the force and the department is working on getting more deputy volunteers.

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