Over the past few weeks, comments and innuendo have been made about the funding that local jurisdictions have received from the federal government through the CARES Act and, by extension, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), also known as State and Local. Fiscal Recovery Fund (FSFRF).
Apparently, the misconception revolves around the idea that local governments are unsure of what to do with the funding.
First, it is worth describing the fiscal reality and status quo that local jurisdictions face. Local governments in Wisconsin operate under what is arguably one of the most stringent tax limitation policies in the United States. I can understand some of the thinking that has gone on, but the protracted nature of this policy has had unintended consequences and has started to pit things that the public values at a high level against each other.
Likewise, it has placed many jurisdictions in the position of having to make difficult funding decisions in areas of essential, mandatory and program services such as health and social services and public safety.
So, what local governments have been discussing is how to make the most of this one-time funding to respond to recovery efforts, consolidating areas within their organization that have come under tremendous pressure due to the increase. of the workload in the mandated areas that are beyond their control, and to try to put their organizations and their constituents on a better footing in a post-pandemic reality. This is no small feat, and it requires careful thought and caution.
In turn, this requires taking your time. Fortunately, the window in which governments can use this funding is until the end of 2024 and in some scenarios until 2026.
Is there an urgent need to obtain this funding? In some cases, yes, but given that this has to be treated differently from the annual budget cycle and we have time to use it, why wouldn’t we do it? The annual budget process often feels like a bad throw on a fishing trip where a bird line nest has to be unraveled throughout the year so that when a budget is passed we can cast again and start treating a new bird’s nest.
As anyone who fishes knows, you have to take your time to untie this knot, and the local government, unlike us who love to go out on the water, can’t just cut the line and put the rope back on. In many ways, ARPA / SLRFF funding presents more casting opportunities and takes the time to load your reel, process the line, and prepare for the casts which we know will catch fish.
In short, now is not the time to hurry. Local governments work hard and should be given the time they need to make prudent and financially sound decisions that reflect the work they do each year to advance their skills in another year of hardship caused by the drawdown limit, unfunded mandates and all the surprises we come across along the way that can’t be planned but need to be addressed.
Chris Holman is the Portage County Executive and can be reached at 715-346-1997.