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City of Wheeling Gets First $14.1 Million in COVID-19 Aid

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WHEELING — The city of Wheeling has received its first payment of coronavirus recovery funds through the American Rescue Plan, and city leaders are expected to meet in upcoming special work sessions to decide the most prudent ways to utilize the money.

A total of $28,197,143 was awarded to the city of Wheeling from the American Rescue Plan’s allocations to metropolitan cities. As expected, the city recently received about $14.1 million in the first of what is expected to be two separate payments.

In light of the federal COVID-related relief funds the city has received, members of the Finance Committee of Wheeling City Council met recently to approve a final budget revision to reflect changes in city revenues and offset increases in expenditures.

The current 2020-21 fiscal year will come to a close at the end of this month.

“The state auditor’s office is requiring that the final budget revisions for the fiscal year be submitted to them by June 15,” Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said. “This provides a snapshot of where we are 11 months into the fiscal year and anticipates the final month to make sure that all of those line items do not exceed the appropriation.”

Last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city was able to receive monthly allocations from the state through the previous federal stimulus bill, the CARES Act. These allocations — averaging around $1 million per month from when the pandemic began in mid-March and April 2020 — were reimbursements for COVID-related expenditures, Herron explained.

The bulk of those funds were directed into the city’s Municipal Stabilization Fund and its Project Fund.

There are provisions in the American Rescue Plan which allow for reimbursement for lost revenue stemming from March of last year and into the next three years as the economy continues to recover, the city manager noted.

“The theory there is that as the economy improves, the lost revenue will decrease to zero,” Herron said. “Part of the regulations in the statute permit local governments an opportunity to do a calculation which is fairly complicated in looking at lost revenue from March 2020 until the end of the fiscal year.”

Herron said Wheeling Finance Director Seth McIntyre has been closely examining and crunching numbers in accordance with the American Rescue Plan statute and has verified those calculations with the state auditor’s office.

Those calculations through the end of the fiscal year came to $1.9 million, Herron said. According to the guidelines, these lost revenues can be calculated for the next three years.

“The finance director has been very thorough in his analysis of this,” Herron said, noting that officials from the state auditor’s office agree that it would be appropriate for the city to place this money into a separate account until council can consider the best use for it later. “What we’re proposing is that the budget revision include that $1.9 million, that it be placed into contingency, and that would be subject to city council appropriation in July.”

Relief funds from the American Rescue Plan have specific guidelines dictating how the money can be spent. Government services such as road repair and maintenance, public services such as police and fire protection, public health emergency services and other uses are permitted under the statute. Permitted uses also include providing premium pay for essential workers, replacing lost public sector revenue, supporting public health expenditures, addressing negative economic impacts and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, according to policies outlined by the U.S. Treasury.

City officials have said they planned to hold work sessions in the coming weeks to brainstorm ideas and discuss proposals for spending the funds. Additional paving projects likely will be considered, officials said, and several other investments that benefit the community will be explored.

“It has to be reinvested back into the budget,” Herron said of this special pool of money. “It cannot be transferred into a capital improvement fund or budget stabilization.”

Members of the Finance Committee of Council approved the budget revision, and subsequently, members of the full city council unanimously passed a related resolution approving the general fund budget revisions. The $1.9 million reimbursement figure from the American Rescue Plan was included in the budget revision.

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