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By Charlie Wolfson
The $2 trillion Covid-19 relief bill passed by Congress in March injected an unanticipated and unprecedented amount of money into communities in Allegheny County. The plan includes more than $300 million each for the city government of Pittsburgh and the county government of Allegheny.
But across the county — and especially off the headlines — there’s $130 million more from the American Rescue Plan Act. [ARPA] in the form of small amounts granted to most of the 130 municipalities of the county. The amounts, ranging from just under $8,000 to over $24 million, represent a relatively large opportunity for these small boroughs and townships.
“For the majority of these municipalities, it’s a really good boost because it’s basically money that they didn’t expect,” says George Dougherty, director of the public policy and management program at the University of Pittsburgh.
PublicSource spoke with officials from seven Allegheny County municipalities to find out what the infusion has meant to them so far.
“It’s huge for us,” said Penn Hills City Manager Scott Andrejchak. “We’re able to do a lot of projects that we didn’t really know how we were going to fund.”
The money, including the $17.1 million marked for Penn Hills, must be spent by 2024. The Treasury Department has given general guidelines on how the money can be spent, including replacement of lost income, public health needs, bonuses for essential workers and infrastructure projects. .
While every city and county regularly receives state and federal funding, ARPA’s sums are historic in their magnitude.
Penn Hills’ allocation is 30% the size of the city’s entire 2021 budget and represents more money than the city has budgeted for police, emergency medical services, public works and libraries combined in 2021. The township has created a plan to spend its money on a mix of sewer and stormwater projects, parks facilities, bolstering its police and EMS budgets, and a host of other things.
Although former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was criticized in 2021 for allocating a lot of ARPA money to capital projects rather than things more closely related to Covid-19 impacts like housing assistance and food assistance, a number of small municipalities spend the money in a similar fashion.
Hampton Township Superintendent Chris Lochner, which has nearly $2 million in ARPA funds, said the township plans to use the entire sum for capital projects — road paving, building improvements, and more. community center and restrooms in a park.
Bridgeville, which received just over $500,000, is devoting nearly all of its allocation to a stormwater infrastructure project. Borough Director Joe Kauer said the project would not have been possible without ARPA.
Dougherty says many smaller municipalities have been able to spend the money on infrastructure projects because their budgets haven’t been hit as hard by the pandemic as many once feared.
Shaler Borough Manager Tim Rogers says his team has already spent most of the first half of the money (the second half is coming in the summer of 2022) on sewer rehabilitation and installation. .
Other city leaders were less sure of Congress’ intent for the money. Baldwin Borough Manager Bob Firek said Baldwin is still deciding how to spend his money and is “awaiting further guidance” from the federal government.
“The guidelines are broad and obscure,” says Firek. “We don’t want to use it and then have to give it back because we misused it.”
West Mifflin Borough Manager Brian Kamauf adds: ‘I would love to build a playground or something, but I don’t know how it relates to Covid.
Carnegie Borough Director Stephen Beuter said his team was drawing up plans to use the money for infrastructure upgrades, but they, too, were rejected by Treasury instructions.
“It’s not extremely clear,” says Beuter. “We reached out to nearby communities to get ideas for the kinds of things they use it for. But it is absolutely necessary to get through the pandemic, and we hope to use it as soon as possible. »
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