City News

Local governments in Salem area prepare for unexpected $115 million infusion of federal cash

The floodgates on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act have been lifted and Marion and Polk counties are expecting money to begin pouring in.

Local governments will soon find themselves flush with cash they were unsure would be approved just a few months ago. They now find themselves trying to parse how much they’ll get and how it can be spent.

Salem is anticipating getting $32.8 million in two installments within the next two years, city spokeswoman Emily DuPlessis-Enders said. 

“We are planning to focus these one-time funds on helping the city and community recover from the impacts of the pandemic and strengthen our resiliency for the future,” she said in an email.    

DuPlessis-Enders said the city was expecting the first batch of money in the next 60 days and it has until 2024 to spend it.

It can be used to provide premium pay to essential government workers and replace revenue lost during the pandemic that normally would fund essential government services. It can also be used to improve water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. 

The money can’t be used to reduce local taxes or to pay government pensions.

The incoming funds are more than four times what Salem received in federal reimbursements last year as it responded to the pandemic.

“As more becomes known regarding the details of these funds available to local government, an information report will be provided at a future city council meeting,” DuPlessis-Enders said.

Marion County is expected to receive $67.4 million under an estimate put out by the National Association of Counties.  

Marion County is working through details of the Congressional legislation and will consider a range of options before any final decisions are made. This is an opportunity for the county to make meaningful investments that will have an impact on our community for years to come. We don’t want to rush the process and make sure we are thoughtful and deliberate as we move forward. The commissioners will be looking at strategic investments that will benefit county residents and businesses,” said county spokeswoman Jolene Kelley in an email.

Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope said his county is expected to receive $16.7 million. 

He said he’s not entirely clear on how the money can be spent. He said he was encouraged to see that broadband infrastructure, a priority for the rural county, is an allowed use of the money.  

Pope expect to use some of the money to expand internet access to the more rural parts of Polk County. 

He’s asked his team to reach out to Alryica, an internet service provider based in Philomath, Oregon, to ask what they could do with additional funding. 

The county already has spent $1 million with Alyrica to expand internet access through building towers and other infrastructure improvements.

“We’re not looking at any big projects specifically that we would use this as wish list,” Pope said. “We’re looking at how can we spread the taxpayers return in a way that benefits as many taxpayers as possible.” 

The Oregon Department of Education expects to receive about $1.12 billion to distribute to local school districts, said Mike Wiltfong, department director of school finance and facilities. That’s nearly double what Oregon schools have received from the two previous rounds of federal stimulus combined and will send tens of millions of dollars to the Salem-Keizer School District.

Specific amounts for districts haven’t been calculated yet, Wiltfong said, but should be available in the next two weeks.

Mike Wolfe, the Salem-Keizer School District’s chief operating officer, said the district doesn’t yet have a plan for spending the new money and is waiting for more guidance on how funds can be spent. He said the district has been tracking additional expenses resulting from the pandemic, which include protective equipment like masks and additional cleaning supplies, as well as portable air filtration systems in some schools.

With local schools reopening for in-person classes, the school district set up its own health authority to coordinate its response to any Covid cases at schools, promoting the head nurse to an administrator position, Wolfe said. Salem-Keizer is currently hiring additional school nurses and licensed practical nurses and expects federal funding to cover personnel costs, Wolfe said.

Cherriots estimates it’ll receive $21 million from the new stimulus package, Patricia Feeny, the agency’s spokeswoman, said in an email. 

She said the agency’s primary goal is to return transit service to where it was before the pandemic while avoiding layoffs and other reductions in its workforce during the recovery. 

“We will use these grant funds to offset revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact to passenger fares and other funding source reductions,” she said. “In addition to revenue loss, we will use these funds to pay for unforeseen COVID-19-related expenses.”

Rachel Alexander and Jake Thomas contributed reporting.

This story was updated to include comments from Marion County.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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