The Opelika City Council unanimously approved a resolution at its Tuesday night meeting to accept millions of dollars in federal funding as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March.
The federal government is distributing a total of $350 billion across state, local and tribal governments as a part of the legislation, with almost $6.5 million being made available to the city of Opelika from the CoronaVirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds made available as a part of the ARP.
The city has already accepted half of the federal funding offered to them, and with the approved resolution will now formally accept the rest, though funds received by the federal program are limited in what they can be spent on.
At the city council meeting, Opelika resident and local NAACP Community Coordinator Christine Bradshaw said she’d like to see the money used to help impoverished communities within the city of Opelika.
“I’m standing here hoping that you all will allow some of that money [to go to] the impoverished neighborhoods,” Bradshaw said to the council. “We hope we can be part of the plan, and we hope that we can work cohesively and collectively together as a city council, as a community. Let’s make a difference here in Opelika.”
In an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News, Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said usage on the funds was limited to four categories specified by the act: to respond to the public health emergency of the pandemic or its negative economic impacts including assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits or aid to impacted industries such as trade, tourism or hospitality; to respond to workers performing essential work during the pandemic by providing premium pay to eligible works; for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the pandemic relative to revenues collected in the most recent fiscal year prior to the public health emergency; and to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
During discussion of the resolution, Ward 2 Councilmember Erica Baker Norris asked Council President Eddie Smith if there would be an opportunity for the public to voice their opinions on how the money should be spent, and Smith said city administration would put together their recommendations and meet with the council to hear the council’s input.
“The funds will be very restricted in their uses, and we’ll have to comply with that,” Opelika City Attorney Guy Gunter said. “The city could hold a public hearing if they wanted to, but that’s up to the city council.”
The funding will be put into an account separate from all other municipal revenues, and the city has until the end of 2024 to obligate the funds and until the end of 2026 to spend them or else they will be required to return the money.
“I don’t anticipate returning any money,” Fuller said. “I’m typically opposed to government give-a-way programs, but if they’re going to be giving money away, I want Opelika to get its fair share, and certainly we have needs in our community that we will be able to properly invest the money to.”