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Friday January 21, 2022
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John Fournier

American Rescue Plan

The city and the county are getting almost $100 million from Washington. What will they do with it?

by James Leonard

From the December, 2021 issue

"We call it the Washtenaw County Rescue Plan," laughs county board chair Sue Shink. "It's the federal government's effort to help our communities recover from Covid and to recover strong and to make ourselves more resilient going forward."

Strong is the word. The county is getting $71 million from the $1.9 trillion program--more than half the county's current annual budget of $126 million. "We got the first $35 million [this past May and the rest] two years from May," Shink continues.

"We're getting $24.2 million," says Ann Arbor assistant city administrator John Fournier, almost a quarter of the city's current $114 million budget. "The money has to be allocated by the end of 2024, and it has to be completely spent by the end of 2026."

Council asked staff for recommendations, and they came back with $41 million worth of projects based on prior council resolutions. Affordable housing tops the list, followed by environmental sustainability, bike lanes, more solar panels on city buildings, and continuing a project to replace galvanized pipes in the city's system.

They'll also be looking at funding the city's community policing initiatives and a proposal to send an unnamed response team to some emergency calls in place of the AAPD. "Council directed us [to] spend the summer studying the issue and then come back with a lot more detail about where the city is on unarmed response," Fournier explains. "We'll have a memo to council on December first with some preliminary recommendations on it."

The county's top priority is expanding broadband Internet access. "We allocated $14.6 million [in September] to building out broadband to every resident in our county who is not already served by broadband," says Shink. "We also allocated $800,000 to support broadband affordability [for residents]. If we find that that $800,000 isn't enough, we will be in a position to allocate more.

"People who don't have broadband have trouble functioning remotely," Shink explains. "There's a map that shows where there are pockets of

...continued below...

low service, and they're really sprinkled throughout the county, particularly in the southwestern portion of the county."

Like Manchester. "While the other school districts were shifting to remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic, they just shut down school because they didn't have the capacity to do class remotely," Shink reports. "So many of the families didn't have adequate broadband to download lessons [that the schools] were providing Internet that was strong enough so that families would sit in their cars in the parking lot and the kids would do their homework."

Broadband would also allow more folks to work remotely. As Shink says, "It'll be a real game changer for the economy of the areas that have a large gap in broadband connectivity."

The county has also already allocated $6.7 million for children's savings accounts to encourage kids to go to college or trade school. And since most of the county's public health budget has been spent on the pandemic for the last two years, the county plans to fill some public health holes with ARP money and expects to have a proposal ready before the end of the year.

The county and the city are extremely grateful for the money. "Beginning with the Reagan years and continuing really until now, the federal government has really, really pared back the funding that they offer to state and local governments until it has become virtually nonexistent," Fournier says.

"It is a very rare occurrence that the federal or state government provides large chunks of money to local government."     (end of article)


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