The gist: Surprising council members, the Guillory administration will introduce Tuesday a plan for spending $86 million in federal coronavirus aid. The sudden introduction fast tracks a big decision after months without any public discussions of what to do.
The councils would have two weeks to weigh in on using the pool of funds, if they vote to introduce the administration’s proposed ordinance at Tuesday’s council meeting. The ordinance formally appropriates the funds, received as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed in March, and adopts a “Proposed American Rescue Plan Act Budget.” Council members expected a much longer discussion.
“That is a very short period of time to go over in detail all of the projects and the validity of those projects,” Parish Councilman Josh Carlson says of the timeline. Carlson and other council members say they have not seen the administration’s budget, which won’t be revealed until Tuesday’s meeting.
“In the end the council will determine what happens,” says Tonya Trcalek, an LCG spokeswoman. “The mayor-president will present his proposal. He certainly is not trying to blindside anyone. His proposal is exciting; he’s addressing quality of life issues.”
Lafayette council members aren’t quite up to speed. LCG has contracted a consultant to help shape Lafayette’s use of the funds. But council members were unaware the administration was preparing a spending proposal. As allocated, the city of Lafayette would have $38.3 million to spend and the Parish Council $47.5 million. For Parish Council members, the funds could right the parish budget virtually overnight.
Council members understood that the administration intended to punt on discussing how to use the funds until after the upcoming regular budget season. ARPA dollars must be appropriated by 2024 and spent by 2026, according to preliminary guidance from the U.S. Treasury, and have fairly broad but nonetheless sticky rules on how they can be spent. Final guidance has not yet been released, but an interim fact sheet outlines approved uses such as restoring lost money for local public agencies, economic aid for essential workers and small businesses, and spending on water and broadband infrastructure.
The Guillory administration requested project proposals for the regular budget months ago. It’s unclear whether those projects would be in the ARPA budget. LCG will enter this upcoming budget process in a stronger financial position than anticipated by the current adopted budget, which forecasted dire shortfalls because of the pandemic. City reserves have ballooned this year with better-than-expected sales receipts, but a decline in property values cost parish government some expected revenue. Parish Council members voted to raise millage rates for some services, but not the parish library system.
Confusion arose when the ordinance appeared Wednesday. Council members expected the proposal would be a matter of housekeeping — essentially, a vote to accept the funds and appropriate them into LCG’s budget without earmarks for specific projects. But the ordinance also references the proposed ARPA budget and stipulates that council members have reviewed it.
“I did not see a budget,” City Council Chairman Pat Lewis says. He declined to say whether he would move to defer the ordinance for further discussion. “We have to see what [Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s] plans are, his ideas. He’s the controller.”
Lewis and City Councilman Glenn Lazard have called a town hall on July 21 to gather citizen input on how to use the money. They announced the event Wednesday, making note of the introductory ARPA ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday. Following the typical schedule for local legislation, the councils would vote to adopt the ARPA budget Aug. 3, the date of the next regularly scheduled council meeting.
How would you spend LCG’s $86 million? Tell us here.
Communities across the country are working through how to put the federal windfall to good use, with many holding extensive public processes earlier this year. Guidance remains preliminary, but many jurisdictions have already laid out their plans. Some are using the money to set up health clinics to help with vaccine rollouts, while others are paying to launch public WiFi and close internet gaps or shore up water infrastructure. Ruston intends to use some of its ARPA funds to pay remote workers $10,000 to move there, as part of an effort to attract talent.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Carlson says. “I don’t want to screw it up.”