Oak Harbor considers uses for $6.5 million of recovery funds

Ideas for spending American Rescue Plan funds range from bill assistance to crime scene equipment.

The ideas for how to spend Oak Harbor’s $6,578,122 of federal American Rescue Plan funds run the gamut from utility bill assistance to crime scene equipment.

Oak Harbor Finance Director David Goldman presented city council members with an overview of what will be one of the city’s largest sources of revenue for the next few years during a workshop meeting Wednesday.

The funds are generally more flexible than CARES Act funding and the city has more time to determine how to spend the money.

The money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by 2026.

There are several categories of uses for the funds: revenue loss calculation, public health response to COVID-19, response to negative economic impacts, premium pay for essential workers and investments in infrastructure.

The money cannot be used for rainy day funds, for any obligations related to settlement agreements, or used as no-federal match dollars for federal grants. The city also cannot give it to individuals or businesses that did not experience a negative economic impact during the pandemic.

Goldman’s recommendations included staff hired for accounting support to help the city meet federal reporting requirements as it disburses the money.

The first idea Goldman shared was giving assistance to people with their utility bills. The average family’s combined utility bills went up by an average of nearly $200 per month, and the city could use the funds to offset the cost for low- to moderate-income households. The city could also choose to use some of the money for upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure and broadband capabilities.

In terms of economic development, the city could give money to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce for task forces and community focus groups related to economic recovery. The city could also assist small businesses by helping them pay event fees and permits.

The funds could also be used for renovations to offices in city hall, or development of the interpretative center at the Clean Water Facility, or for energy efficiency improvements. It could also fund generators for city hall, crime scene equipment for the police department, or extrication tools for the fire department.

City employees could also see a bump in pay. Some of the ideas included a one-time holiday, potential cost of living adjustments, or rehiring positions that were reduced because of the pandemic.

Goldman asked council members to begin thinking about some of the ways to use the $6 million but said they have more time to determine its uses than they did with the CARES Act funds.

Councilmember Jim Woessner suggested a council subcommittee for the issue, adding that he would like some public feedback.

“This is an area where we might want some public input on,” Woessner said. “Understanding what the community needs and what the needs are out there in the community I think is going to be an important part of making the decisions.”