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City creates talent bank to garner spending advice

Council seeks ideas for spending $41M

Altoona is accepting talent bank applications from anyone who would like to become part of the committee that will advise Mayor Matt Pacifico and City Council on how best to use the $41 million the city hopes to receive from the recently adopted American Rescue Plan.

Officials expect to get half the money and the guidance on how it can be used by May 10, although officials would prefer to get the guidance earlier — perhaps by the end of this week, according to acting City Manager Omar Strohm.

It doesn’t make sense to begin naming committee members until the guidance shows how the funds can be used, so members’ expertise will match the projects that are eligible, Pacifico said at a meeting this week — yet it won’t hurt to begin collecting names right away, Councilman Bruce Kelley said.

Talent bank applications are available on the city’s website, altoonapa.gov, under “News/Announcements,” by clicking on “American Rescue Plan Advisory Board.”

The application form is fillable and submittable electronically, according to Chief Clerk Linda Rickens Schellhammer, who will receive the applications directly.

Even without the upcoming federal guidance, staff has been preparing, Strohm said.

“The city has taken preliminary steps,” he said. “We’re ready.”

The American Recovery Plan was signed March 11, and it calls for the Department of the Treasury to provide the first half of money, along with the guidance for spending it within 60 days, Strohm said.

The rest of the money is scheduled to be disbursed on March 11, 2022, according to natlawreview.com.

The money amounts to about $800 for every Altoona citizen — or $2,000 per property, Councilman Dave Butterbaugh said.

Council members have been speculating about how to use the funding.

“It’s not like we don’t have a lot of projects we could do,” Kelley said. Those include road paving, sidewalks, curbing and stormwater management, which could relieve neighborhoods that often flood when it rains hard, he said.

The money could also go toward the new land bank, which hasn’t yet facilitated any property development, and which needs funds to begin work, Kelley said.

The city’s current paving cycle is 25 years, which is far too long, officials indicated.

While the guidance for spending the $65 billion that the act allocates for “direct and flexible aid to America’s cities, towns and villages” hasn’t been promulgated yet, preliminary limitations in the “statutory language” indicate that some of the suggested uses may be ineligible.

The language of the act calls for the funding to be used in four categories, three of which are pandemic-specific, according to the National League of Cities:

* To respond to the pandemic’s negative impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits or impacted industries like tourism, travel and hospitality.

* For premium pay to eligible workers performing essential work.

* For provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenues due to the pandemic.

* To make necessary in­vestments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

Of the suggested uses, stormwater projects may be the ones that fit those broad guidelines best.

It may be a hard sell to use the money for “provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenues due to the pandemic,” based on information provided by Strohm at the meeting.

Perhaps surprisingly, Altoona’s revenues in 2020 didn’t take an obvious dip due to the pandemic, Strohm said.

Rather, the main revenue sources were approximately at their budgeted numbers, based on so-far unaudited results, Strohm said.

The money from the American Rescue Plan will be placed in a city account, and can be spent directly, according to Strohm. The funding is not, as many government grants are, merely reimbursement after local agencies pay upfront, he said.

It’s expected that all contracts undertaken under the American Rescue Plan would need to pay prevailing wage, Strohm said. Prevailing wages are generally higher than wages on jobs on which they’re not required.

A check for a contract awarded by a local municipality in May 2020 shows that carpenters on that job were to be paid about $29 an hour, with benefits totaling another $16 per hour — for a total of $45 an hour, according to a state Department of Labor & Industry webpage.

The pent-up demand for projects and the ready availability of money from the American Rescue Plan is also likely to push up prices, officials said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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