The Boulder City Council on Monday began wrestling with the question of how it will spend over $300,000 in federal relief funds — and with the possibility that more aid will follow.
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into U.S. law in March, allocates funds to every state, county, and municipality in the nation to support activities intended to mitigate the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Boulder is slated to receive $308,943 from the legislated funds.
But that could be just the start. As Tom Harrington, economic and community development agent at the Madison Jefferson County Extension office, told the Council, “the exciting thing is there’s so much other money out there.”
Among other potential sources, the Montana State Legislature has passed House Bill 632, which directs $2.3 billion of ARPA funds to areas such as local infrastructure, economic development, and child care — some of which likely will trickle down to municipalities.
In Boulder, Harrington suggested, ARPA funds might be applied to the riverside trail project original envisioned by the Boulder Development Fund, “because it creates recreation opportunities.” A contemplated addition to City Hall, put off for lack of funding, might qualify since it would enhance the local government’s capacity to respond to the pandemic. The city also could use funds to expand installation of fiber for broadband Internet service.
City Councilor Drew Dawson, who led the multi-year Boulder Development Fund to allocate $500,000 of state aid in the wake of the 2015 Montana Developmental Center closure, noted that that effort put the city at an advantage with regard to ARPA: “We’ve done a lot of planning, and some of that we can turn into COVID-related projects.”
“What concerns me is what we don’t know, and what the unlimited potential is,” Dawson said. “This is one pot of money through ARPA, but there are so many others out there right now.” The City, he noted, would do well to hire a grant writer, possibly in concert with Jefferson County or other entities, to seek out and coordinate multiple grant opportunities.
For now, the City Council agreed to synchronize planning for ARPA funds with its annual budgeting process which launches May 26. Councilors are set to meet in the next week to set a timeline for discussions and draft an initial plan that reflects existing priorities and strategies.
The Council committed to accepting public input on the plan as it emerges.
Mayor Rusty Giulio told the Council that Police Chief Joe Canzona and Officer Kyle St. George had resigned from the city force, both effective April 30. The officers have found employment elsewhere, Giulio said.
Jordan Grimsrud has been named acting chief, Giulio said, pending the outcome of the hiring process for two new officers. The city received 12 applications for the two posts by the May 14 deadline.