Vienna officials are leaning toward spending millions of dollars on capital-improvement projects to make the most of an infusion of federal COVID-relief funds.
Congress on March 11 passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide relief funds for state, local and tribal governments responding to and recovering from the pandemic.
Virginia’s Secretary of Finance confirmed June 9 that Vienna would receive $17.1 million in ARPA funds. Half that amount arrived June 30; the rest will come next June.
Town officials in the next three to six months will need to devise a final plan for the ARPA funds, which must be spent by 2024, Finance Director Marion Serfass told the Vienna Town Council at a Dec. 13 work session.
“We don’t want to let this opportunity pass us by,” she said.
Vienna’s budget committee and department heads over the summer developed and ranked plans for how to divvy up those funds. In discussions with the Council this fall, Vienna officials looked for ways to get as much value from the ARPA funds while staying within federal regulations, as the U.S. Treasury Department’s inspector general will audit the town sometime after 2026.
Serfass has asked for town staff to fill out a form to tie each prospective purchase with the Treasury Department’s ARPA guidelines.
“I have taken a lot of seminar training, talk every two weeks with other Virginia finance directors and read the Treasury guidance,” she said of her own preparations. “That’s the best we can do with verifying [purchases] in advance.”
Projects that bolster public safety, help businesses, improve air quality in buildings, ensure clean water and upgrade parks are shoo-ins to pass muster, Serfass said. The Council already has indicated willingness to move forward with public-safety, economic-development and information-technology initiatives, she said.
Town staff has recommended spending nearly $13.1 million of the ARPA moneys on capital-improvement program (CIP) projects, many of which qualify for the federal funds. Staff also suggested spending $5 million of the moneys on water-and-sewer projects.
Nearly $9.9 million would be spent in 2022 and about $3.2 million in 2024. The remainder of the ARPA funds could go toward bolstering the town’s cyber-security, mitigating the pandemic’s economic harm and upgrading public buildings to ensure healthier conditions (e.g., by installing better ventilation systems).
Among the Council’s identified ARPA spending priorities:
• For public safety, the Council is looking at spending $200,000 for traffic-signal preemption for emergency vehicles; $130,000 for police-dispatch upgrades; $80,000 to upgrade the police department’s records-management system; $225,000 for police body-worn cameras; $365,000 for radio replacement; $137,300 for in-car police video equipment.
• For parks and recreation, the Council seeks to spend $140,000 on playground equipment and surfacing and $40,000 for court upgrades at Southside Park and $147,000 for lighting, bleachers and picnic tables at three parks.
• For economic development, the Council wishes to set aside $140,000 to design and acquire banners and wayfinding signs for the Central Business District.
• For public works, the Council is looking at spending $700,000 for a Nutley Street culvert; $1.2 million for roadway improvements on Glyndon Street, S.E.; $600,000 for similar upgrades on Glyndon Street, N.E.; $500,000 for water-quality improvements at Northside Property Yard; and $1.7 million for drainage improvements at Maple Avenue and Center Street.
Following the Dec. 13 discussion, Serfass said she would move the proposed purchase of a $130,000 Bobcat ToolCat 5600 truck to the ARPA column and shift a comparably expensive parks-and-recreation item to be financed with CIP funds.
Even with all of the above projects, the town still would have nearly $204,000 in unallocated ARPA funds.
The Council on Jan. 24 is slated to approve the ARPA funding package, with adjustments made for the Bobcat vehicle, and also sign off on the town’s fiscal 2022/2023 CIP plan, in advance of the bond issuance in February or March, Serfass said.
Town staff will have contracting discretion on projects costing up to $30,000; those costing more will require competitive bidding and the Town Council’s approval.
Revenues from the town’s meals tax, which pays for capital-improvement projects, have bounced back well from the pandemic, Serfass said. While Vienna typically raked in about $250,000 per month from the tax before the pandemic, revenues in recent months have ranged between $270,000 to $280,000.
Serfass attributed the increases to pent-up demand for dining and the arrival of several new restaurants in town. Council member Charles Anderson facetiously complained about the impact a local shop, Crumbl Cookies, was having on his waistline.
“It should not be legal to have hot cookies delivered to your door in 15 minutes,” Anderson said