Approaching one year after receiving their first block of American Rescue Plan Act money, Franklin, Brentwood and Williamson County officials are trying to steer the dollars toward infrastructure and other needs that fall within the bill’s allowable uses.
Signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, the bill provides $3.91 billion to the state government and $2.28 billion to Tennessee cities and counties to aid with COVID-19 pandemic recovery, according to the state. In addition to filling revenue shortfalls caused by the crisis, the final rules also give latitude to spend on water infrastructure, broadband service and other needs. The rules require the money to be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.
Franklin, Brentwood and Williamson County individually received half of their allocations between
May and the fall of last year, with the second half to arrive this year over a similar timespan, officials said.
“In terms of projects, we’ve talked about some of them, and we plan to give the [Franklin] Board of Mayor and Aldermen an update and overview shortly,” Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey said.
Stuckey said Franklin is working to spend much of its expected $9.2 million—which it is receiving in two equal shares—on eligible water and stormwater infrastructure.
“There [is] a pretty significant number of strings on these dollars; our focus of taking care of aging water and sewer infrastructure is a good fit for us,” Stuckey said.
The city is also assigning a $50,000 portion of the funds for sidewalk replacement and maintenance as well as $500,000 for the city’s hotel occupancy tax fund, which dipped when occupancy rates fell due to the pandemic, Stuckey said.
“As activity has been restored in terms of visitor traffic, we have been able to find ways to support that industry and promote it for tourism dollars,” Stuckey said.
A shorter-lived downturn
Officials said because the pandemic related drop of state and local revenue was smaller and less prolonged than expected, the region’s governments can focus their spending of the leftover money on separate visions of infrastructure expansion and modernization.
“There was that initial two- to four-month period from April through July 2020 when everything shut down, but then [revenue] started to come back,” Brentwood City Manager Kirk Bednar said.
A federal rule, dictating how localities could spend money, went into effect this April, allowing city and county governments to claim $10 million of their award as “lost revenue” for the provision of general government services.
Bednar said the option to choose that allowance works better for Brentwood than a previously proposed complex federal formula to assess revenue shortfalls.
“A lot of the areas for spending covered by the first set of rules really didn’t seem to fit [Brentwood] and it wasn’t quite as clear cut,” Bednar said. “When the final rule came out, it provided a lot more flexibility, and we were much more comfortable moving forward.”
Brentwood will claim $7.5 million of its $12.5 million allocation to go toward stormwater drainage projects being identified in a $600,000 stormwater study, Bednar said. The city received the first half of the money in October, with the rest expected to arrive this fall.
“We are a little bit unique in that we aren’t a service provider in the health arena at all, and we don’t distribute community development block grants,” Bednar said. “We’re trying to find the best way to use the money to deal with our city infrastructure to benefit the whole community.”
Bednar said the $7.5 million could be used to upgrade and modernize open-ditch drainage systems that date back to when some of the city’s earliest neighborhoods were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Bednar said.
“I don’t want to presuppose, but we will potentially see projects to upgrade and redefine existing drainage systems in some of our older neighborhoods,” Bednar said.
The remaining $5 million will go toward the city’s Sewage Tank Equalization Project that is set to be finished later this year.
The project includes an equalization pump station with a capacity of 5.5 million gallons per day and a 4 million-gallon concrete wastewater equalization tank targeting overflows at the Brentwood/Metro Nashville sewer pumping station caused by stormwater infiltration, according to project documents.
On March 14, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to pursue applying its $46.3 million ARPA allocation toward broadband infrastructure expansion in the county.
Paul Webb, an accountant in the county’s budget office administering the distribution, said the intent is to use much of the money to expand broadband internet.
The approved resolution committed matching dollars of up to $1.7 million and $3 million to bolster two applications by Comcast and United Communications vying for $400 million in available funding from the Tennessee Department of Economic Development for expanded broadband, according to Webb, who is coordinating the county’s support of the grant applications.
The applications to install broadband internet from the companies are likely to be in the southeast and southwest portions of the county, Webb said.
“United and Comcast have done surveys showing that part of the county does not have adequate broadband,” said Webb, who is also a District 6 county commissioner. “Having our local support for their projects will give them extra points on their scorecard.”
Meeting future challenges
Bednar said an outcome of the COVID-19 shutdown and region-wide efforts to coordinate a response was stronger communication between regional governments.
“One thing COVID did was create a whole heck of a lot more meetings between all of us,” Bednar said. “The coordination of the COVID[-19] period will leave a lasting imprint, and people will be using those connections for the benefit of the whole region for •a while.”
In Franklin, the city’s administration departments plans to request the creation of two new positions: an emergency management coordinator and a specialist to coordinate the city’s preparations for crises, Stuckey said.
“Even if it isn’t a full-scale emergency response, it is about being able to adapt to something that is out of the normal,” Stuckey said.
Area officials working out COVID American Rescue Plan Act spending goals
Franklin, Brentwood and Williamson County will spend their COVID American Rescue Plan Act dollars by Dec. 31, 2026. (Source: City of Brentwood, City of Franklin, Williamson County/Community Impact Newspaper)