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Highways? Parks? Is There A City Aquarium? Des Moines Residents’ Suggestions For How The City Should Spend $95 Million In Federal Funds

What will the city of Des Moines be able to accomplish with roughly $95 million in federal funding? The quick answer is that there is a lot.

Des Moines, like other cities across the country, will receive millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act to spend on a variety of local programs, subject to a number of conditions.

But the million-dollar question that city officials have been trying to answer is: What should the money be used on, according to residents?

Des Moines municipal officials began a city-wide poll in mid-December, asking respondents questions such as “how has the epidemic affected you?” and to select options for how the city should spend federal funds, as well as include blank spots for residents to make other suggestions.

So far, 254 people have responded to the poll, with 214 of them being present residents of the city.

More than 100 people responded to the blank sections for additional proposals, asking for things like money for illegal workers, more funds for parks and recreation, and one request for a city aquarium.

Working remotely, worsening mental health, and loss of work and income were the top three ways people said the epidemic had affected them. Thirty-four people stated the pandemic had had no impact on them.

The money might be spent in six different ways, according to city authorities. According to USA TODAY, the monies cannot be used to cut taxes, contribute to rainy-day accounts, pay for legal settlements, or shore up pension funds due to federal laws.

According to the US Treasury, ARPA money can be used for the following purposes:

Essential personnel receive higher remuneration.

Dealing with the consequences of the economic downturn.

Infrastructure for water and sewage.

Broadband.

Supporting the COVID-19 public health response.

Replacing revenue from the public sector that has been lost.

City officials proposed six categories for local officials to consider based on those stipulations:

Stormwater and sanitary sewer projects for climate change resiliency are examples of enterprise infrastructure.

Local nonprofits that have been harmed by COVID-19 or that are assisting individuals who have been harmed by COVID-19.

Community centers, parks, paths, trees, and sidewalk expansions are among the amenities available to residents.

City facilities: To fulfill pandemic operating needs, capital investments in public infrastructures are being made.

Improved walkability or long-term replacement of old infrastructure are two examples of road upgrades.

Affordable housing, solar panels for city infrastructure, broadband accessibility, and gun violence prevention programs are all examples of social and environmental justice.

Members of the Des Moines City Council weigh in.

Des Moines City Council received an update on the ARPA community survey and given insight into what they thought the money may be utilized on at a quarterly work session Monday.

Ward 1 councilwoman Indira Sheumaker was adamant that the funds be used for direct support to pandemic-affected households and individuals, as well as public health mitigating activities.

“We’re in the third year of the pandemic, and there’s no real light at the end of the tunnel,” she remarked on Monday.

Sheumaker also argued for the creation of a fund for undocumented people who were not eligible for federal assistance during the pandemic.

Several local undocumented employees pressed municipal officials to create the fund at a public budget input meeting last month, describing personal experiences of losing money as a result of the pandemic while being unable to apply for federal help.

Connie Boesen, an at-large City Council member, proposed using ARPA monies to build a new north-side leisure complex, which is now in the design phases. Using the city’s Local Option Sales Tax, the city has already set aside $12 million over the next four years for the building’s construction or refurbishment.

Boesen proposed using federal monies instead of the sales tax to support the project, while Sheumaker argued that the city should supplement the sum already given by LOSS with funds from other sources.

According to City Manager Scott Sanders, the city has identified housing stability as a major issue that citizens have been dealing with as a result of the epidemic, based on community feedback.

The ARPA funds will not be distributed until the early summer.
Des Moines has until December 31, 2024, to decide how the approximately $95 million will be spent, and until December 31, 2026, to deplete the money.

In the meantime, until April 2022, the city will welcome survey submissions.

Officials from the city said on Monday that the city should be able to allocate funding by the middle of 2022.

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