MN cities look for ways to use or lose another $1 billion in COVID funding

Savage is among hundreds of Minnesota cities and towns in line to spend another $1 billion in federal pandemic recovery funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The process provides a snapshot of the effort underway in local governments statewide to decide how to use it or lose it by the end of 2024.

Savage’s share amounts to $3.5 million, on top of some $2.4 million in CARES Act pandemic funding that the Twin Cities suburb already burned through during the last couple years. But finding creative ways to spend the windfall can be more of a dilemma than a taxpayer might expect.

For starters, the Savage City Council allocated $40,000 for a temporary community engagement coordinator and online platform to solicit residents’ suggestions.

Please take a moment to tell us your ideas on how to spend the federal funds. Don’t be afraid to think big and outside the box. We are listening and looking forward to your input. Please feel free to check out any of the ARPA documents under the FAQ’s section for parameters. 

The 38 responses posted online from city residents sharing their pet projects include a water park, curling center, bike trails and a NOAA weather station, in addition to a handful of requests to return the money to the treasury.

Send the money back. Just because it sounds like free money it is not free money to spend on your whims.

In the end, the projects given the green light run the gamut from $3,500 for community classes on mental health awareness to $24,000 to visit and survey local companies about the community’s business environment to a $950,000 irrigation system that will use recycled water at a local park. The list also includes these winners:

–$250,000 to the Savage Sports Center to offset lost revenue and hold in reserve “to assist with future expenditures” that may arise down the line.

–$200,000 to create and hold pop-up events “to attract people to the city’s commercial areas.”

–$730,000 for an addition to the library “to provide additional programming opportunities for users of the library space.”

–$125,000 to draw up a plan of downtown designed to “activate the area and plan for the future.”

Another $175,000 went for “immediate response to mitigating COVID-19” at city facilities, $152,000 to help “businesses’ ongoing response” to the pandemic and $80,000 for mental health services for underserved communities.

Yet Savage also designated a whopping $800,000 for affordable housing without a concrete plan on how the funds will be spent, according to Southwest Media.

Under the plan adopted Monday, $800,000 is set aside for future affordable housing projects, although no specific proposal is under consideration at this time.

“That’s a placeholder and we are looking at two different options,” Larson said in an interview.

Previously, city officials have discussed partnering with a local agency’s land trust program to acquire and rehab old single-family homes, but Larson noted the city’s options are limited in today’s market due to soaring property and construction costs.

But not to worry. Savage has cleared the biggest hurdle by stipulating how the pandemic funds will be used. Spending it will be the easy part, since local governments have until the end of 2026 to do it.