It’s not the same as winning the lottery, but it’s close. And just as lottery winners must deal with the hazards of unexpected and unearned wealth, so must counties and municipalities throughout the nation and here in West Virginia.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced recently that local governments in West Virginia will get a share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package.
“For the first time in generations, our towns and counties are receiving direct funding to address the specific needs facing each individual community,” Manchin said.
The question that now faces counties and municipalities is how to use that money to benefit the most people for the longest time. Several communities are already on track to do just that.
Barboursville is to receive $1.77 million, which it plans to use toward the $2 million cost of the first phase of sewage treatment system improvements, Mayor Chris Tatum told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Fred Pace in a front-page article in Sunday’s edition. The total cost of the project, which includes closing the existing sewage lagoon and sending the village’s wastewater to the Pea Ridge Public Service District treatment plant, is $8 million to $10 million, Tatum said. That means the American Rescue Plan money will pay a good percentage of that and hold down rate increases for village residents and businesses.
The town of Ceredo has been told it will receive $530,000 spread over two years, said Mayor Paul Billups. That money will go to a water project and a sewer project that should be shovel-ready this year, he said. Those two projects should cost a combined $175,000, so town officials are studying what other infrastructure needs can be addressed with the remainder, Billups said.
The city of Kenova will receive $1.23 million. Mayor Tim Bias said city officials are waiting for guidance from the federal government on how the money may be spent. In the meantime, they are gathering information on water, sewer and other projects that can be done.
The largest amount among counties and cities in the state will go to the city of Huntington — $44.84 million.
“Our guiding principle is for each dollar of the $44.84 million we are projected to receive from the Rescue plan, we will leverage an additional $5 of investment in our community,” Williams told Pace. “We expect this approach to leverage this one-time appropriation to a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar expenditure in our city. The quarter-of-a-billion-dollar investment in our city then will have an economic impact that will transform our city and region for the next five decades.”
Williams didn’t provide any specific details, so people who live or work in the city or have other connections to it may have to wait to see how this windfall will be used.
Huntington certainly could use the money for infrastructure improvements. City streets and underpasses flood after heavy storms. Internet speeds are not enough to compete for businesses or workers who are looking to relocate from larger cities. And there are potholes — too many to count.
County governments also are in line to receive stimulus money. Cabell County has been told it will receive $17.83 million. Wayne County will receive $7.64 million.
Some communities may need to spend part or most of the money to compensate for what was lost during the pandemic-related lockdowns last year. For most, however, spending money on infrastructure and permanent improvements — known in the private sector as capital expenditures — is a must. There will be so many temptations to set aside some of this money for projects that benefit limited numbers of people. Legions of consultants and special interests probably have begun planning to get their hands on sizable chunks of it. The taxpaying public must be vigilant to ensure that does not happen.
As with almost every other large-scale endeavor of state and local government, transparency is a must. The public must be informed at each step of the way to ensure that two or three years from now there will be visible results from the windfall that Congress has sent this way.