City opens the books to explain CARES and ARPA expenditures | News

City of Norfolk finance officer Randy Gates has offered a full accounting of the use of the CARES Act and ARPA Funds received by the city as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) were part of the federal government’s two-step approach to help American citizens, businesses and government entities bridge the financial shortfall experienced during the pandemic.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. Since then, more than 6.6 million deaths from the illness have been reported to the WHO.

CARES was a $2.2 trillion national economic stimulus package, of which Nebraska received more than $1.56 billion in governmental, educational and business assistance. Subsequent to that was ARPA, which was more than $1.9 trillion nationally. Nebraska received more than $1 billion from this stimulus package. These amounts do not include economic stimulus provided directly to citizens.

Closer to home, Norfolk received more than $6.3 million in combined stimulus payments from the two programs. Norfolk is classified as a non-entitlement unit, or NEU, of local government. Loosely defined, an NEU is a municipality serving a population base of less than 50,000 people.

In addition to sharing specific expenditure details, Gates offered insight into how the stimulus packages were designed to help local governments.

“When these stimulus programs began, there was a lot of money out there being offered by the government,” Gates said. “Smaller municipal governments were allowed to show an automatic $10 million loss and didn’t have to provide any documentation of that.”

Gates said that while the city never showed a loss to that magnitude, losses during the initial months of the pandemic were significant.

“Sales tax, gas tax, occupancy tax … all of that stopped.”

Gates said that after just a couple of months, however, the city was back on track and when the stimulus money started coming, city officials were able to allocate those funds to direct community needs as a result of the pandemic, as well as to need development initiatives.

As part of the CARES Act, the city received $2,006 million. According to the city’s numbers, all but $382.21 of these funds have been utilized. Expenditures of these funds included an overdue 2% cost of living adjustment for city employees, $1 million in street repair projects in the city and $834,000 in improvement and planning project costs for the public safety center, aquatic center and senior center. Some of those funds were also used for improvements to Liberty Bell Park and to aid the art council, part of which benefited the Norfolk Arts Center.

Additionally, the city received $4.3 million in ARPA funds in two separate payments from the federal government in July 2021 and July 2022, respectively. All but $955,230.64 of those funds have been used or obligated.

Of the ARPA fund expenditures, the largest line items included in-stream improvements on North Fork-United Contractors of $1 million and $1.25 million in improvements and grit removal at the city’s water pollution control plant.

Of the remaining funds, more than $200,000 was used for the purchase of an electrical system from the Elkhorn Rural Public Power District, $650,000 in improvements to the city administration building, Johnson Park and for needed technology upgrades. Two hundred thousand dollars is committed to planning and development of downtown Norfolk as well as park master planning.

Gates said the remaining funds that have not been obligated could be used on any number of city initiatives, and city leaders are actively looking at the best uses for them. He added that as of now, there are no more stimulus disbursements expected from the federal government.

Gates added that, in his opinion, the stimulus money that was offered by the government, while helpful to cities, businesses and citizens at the time, has helped create some of the nation’s current economic instability.

“Throwing money out there is a big part of what caused this,” Gates said. “Because inflation is so much higher, everything we contract for is coming in at more than we originally budgeted.”

More information about the use of the CARES and ARPA funds can be found in the city’s budget documentation on the City of Norfolk website.

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