One of the options for spending American Rescue Plan Act funds is for parks and recreation. West Bloomfield Township has organized a committee to help decide the best use for the funds.

One of the options for spending American Rescue Plan Act funds is for parks and recreation. West Bloomfield Township has organized a committee to help decide the best use for the funds.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield considers uses for American Rescue Plan Act funds

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 13, 2021


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Part of the American Rescue Plan Act that was signed into law earlier this year included billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments.

West Bloomfield’s share of that money is approximately $5.8 million, and according to Township Clerk Debbie Binder, $2,903,995.50 of that was received in June, with the second tranche expected to come around the same time next year.

According to Binder, at this point, there are only four areas of acceptable use for ARPA funds: water, sewer and broadband infrastructure initiatives; mitigation of the negative impact COVID-19 has had on the community; addressing revenue loss due to COVID-19; and absorbing some of the impact of COVID-19 on government operations and hazard pay.

Binder said anything water related “has to be something that’s consistent with Clean Water Act legislation.”

The township only currently has access to an interim final rule from the Department of Treasury, with a final rule to potentially come later that “will finalize the allowable uses,” Binder said.

West Bloomfield has formed a committee to stay informed about the funds and share information with the township board.

The township must report to the federal government on any ARPA expenditures.

“We haven’t done anything with it yet; we intend to file a report that says we have not spent it yet,” Binder said. “We’re making sure that whatever we choose, we have the committee guiding it to make sure we make the best purchases to guarantee that we don’t have to give back the money because we spent it in an inconsistent use.”

Aside from Binder, those who form the township’s committee are Township Treasurer Teri Weingarden, Development Services and Planning Director Amy Neary, Water Utilities Director Ed Haapala and Police Chief Mike Patton.

West Bloomfield Parks Director Jennifer Tucker is also “welcome to join whenever she wishes,”  according to Binder.

Binder is not alone in wanting to exercise due diligence in determining the best use for the funds.

“We will look at where we can best use the money in a committee setting, and then once we decide where it’s going to be the most beneficial to our community, then we will use the funds. But we want to use them wisely,” Weingarden said.

Patience may be the key to getting the best use out of ARPA funds.

“We have plenty of time to come up with a really prudent strategy and spend it wisely,” Weingarden said. “They made it very clear that their goal is for municipalities to not rush into a decision, that the reporting can be, ‘We’re looking into it.’ … I’m not aware of any municipality that’s determined how to spend their money. I don’t think anyone’s figured it out yet.”

Binder elaborated on the role the committee can play in helping to ensure that funds are spent appropriately.

“The committee’s charge is to stay abreast of the information,” she said. “Right now, that’s a big job, just staying aware as things are coming out — more guidance and more interpretation, and making sure it’s (an) accurate interpretation.”

Based on current allowable uses that apply to the township, there may be a limited scope for where to direct the funds.

“Right now, the only possibility that we see to use it for are water utilities projects, and the water utilities projects are so expensive that $5.8 million in water-utility world is, no pun intended, a drop in the bucket,” Binder said. “The numbers are $120 million, $180 million.”

Weingarden added to Binder’s point.

“We’re looking at creative solutions as part of the committee to see if there’s more impactful ways we can (spend) it within that category,” she said.

How the township wishes it could spend ARPA funds is not currently admissible.

“We originally wanted to look at roads,” Binder said. “We thought that it would be able to be used for roads, but from what we heard, and this is hearsay and interpretation, is that they were hoping that the roads were going to be covered with the infrastructure bill that has not been passed yet. But that’s not a guarantee.”

Weingarden shared a similar sentiment.

“When we heard we were getting money, we were so excited thinking that was the area we needed the most help in West Bloomfield, between the safety path and the roadways,” she said. “But it’s very clear that’s not an allowable use.”

Binder said it’s too early to know right now how the ARPA funds will be spent. She would prefer that the township had more options at its disposal.

“It would’ve helped, had each municipality been allowed to determine what needs they had for their individual community, because we don’t all have the same needs,” Binder said. “That being said, we are very grateful because it is a nice gift that we didn’t expect to get. Wherever we are able to use it, it will help allow that money to be freed up to use somewhere else.”

Weingarden would also like for the township to be allowed more flexibility.

“The legislators making laws, they have the best intentions, but they haven’t worked in a local government, so they might not have a full understanding of what our needs are, just like we wouldn’t necessarily know how to help them with some of their work,” she said. “So I think it’s important, when there’s decisions being made, that the people who are being affected by it have a say.”