WHEELING – Officials in the city of Wheeling pumped the brakes on any further expenditures from its pool of American Rescue Plan Act funds, as only about $4 million remains in the drawer that about a year ago was brimming with around $29 million.
City leaders were tasked with deciding the best ways to spend the one-time windfall of federal pandemic relief funding, as municipalities were required to allocate these funds by the end of 2024 and have them spent by 2026. Last year, members of Wheeling City Council reviewed dozens upon dozens of requests for ARPA funds from the community. Requests came from every direction – from nonprofit entities and organizations to city departments.
Each individual request that was approved came to the floor of city council for a vote throughout 2022 and into this month, as well, until members of the Finance Committee of Council put a temporary hold on continued use of ARPA funds until officials could review all remaining requests, as well as the remaining funds in the dwindling pool.
“We’re getting very tight in this aspect. It’s been going on for well over a year,” Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, said after two more presentations on requests for ARPA funds were given last week. “I would like to table these issues so we can discuss these further, look at what remaining funds we have and to find out if they are ARPA-eligible or not.”
As of this week, a total of only $4,096,030 remained in the pool.
SPENT SO FAR
When the city of Wheeling first received its ARPA allocation, some of the money was spent on projects that officials knew would be eligible. Officials continued to offer funds to help local restaurants expand outdoor dining – a pandemic initiative that began during the previous rounds of pandemic relief allocations from the CARES (Community Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act.
A city employee vaccination incentive program was implemented, and rules on spending the ARPA money permitted municipalities to offer hazard pay or compensation for essential workers who remained on the job through the height of the pandemic to keep the city operations running.
Before the U.S. Department of Treasury issued its Final Rule that set strict guidelines for spending ARPA funds, municipal leaders followed an initial set of guidelines issued early in 2021.
“There were interim rules that provided a lost revenue formula that you could use for a four-year period,” Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron explained. “We used that final rule until the Final Rule came out in April 2022, which said we could continue to do those calculations on an annual basis or use a standard allowance of $10 million for lost revenue.”
The city had already calculated $1,951,717 under the initial lost revenue formula for 2021, but chose to move forward with the $10 million cover-all for future lost revenue expenditures. This Revenue Replacement Allocation allowance is a separate pool of ARPA money that is used as a reimbursement for a municipality’s lost revenues from the pandemic and is not subject to rules that are as strict as those for general, direct ARPA allocations.
Chunks of this Revenue Replacement Allocation Fund were distributed to the city’s Project Fund, and allocations of the money went to projects that benefitted citizens on more of a citywide basis, Herron indicated. A huge $1.85 million paving project which included several alleys was approved, as was the city’s $1.36 million contribution to the state’s $32 million Wheeling Downtown Streetscape Project. A new heavy rescue truck and related equipment for the Wheeling Fire Department’s North Wheeling station was purchased and is still being assembled as the city awaits its delivery.
The city is also using $2 million from this fund to pay for its contribution to the future demolition of most of the buildings on the former Ohio Valley Medical Center campus, which the city owns. A new $70 million WVU Medicine regional cancer center is planned for the site.
With the $10 million Lost Public Revenue Replacement fund removed from the total pool of Wheeling’s ARPA money, distribution of the remaining chunk of more than $18 million was subject to the more stringent guidelines of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Final Rule. Specific eligibility guidelines were aimed at goals such as programs that help recover from economic impacts of the pandemic and help bring investments to infrastructure.
Because it is an eligible use, city leaders over the past year dedicated $5 million toward ongoing sewer and water pollution control projects in Wheeling neighborhoods. A $1.1 million investment into various ballparks and other outdoor recreational facilities in the city was also awarded, as was a $115,000 allocation to sandblast public pools and fix roofs at pool houses in the city.
Awards were provided for some big projects for facilities that draw visitors to the area, as well. The city provided more than $1.88 million to the Wheeling Park Commission for various upgrades at Wheeling Park. An award totaling more than $1.86 million was given to the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority for major improvements at WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre, including funding for a new “fly system,” or theatrical rigging system, at the historic theater.
The urgent need for child care service came to the forefront during the pandemic, and the city provided a $500,000 ARPA award to the nonprofit King’s Daughters Child Care center to help with its expansion plans.
City leaders initiated a Homeowner-Occupied Repair Assistance Program, providing grant money for homeowners to fix their properties. Initially thought to require about $200,000, the program received an overwhelming response, prompting city leaders to increase its pool of funding to $2 million from the ARPA funds.
Since several nonprofit agencies were eligible for ARPA funding, the city solicited help from the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley to distribute money to various Wheeling nonprofits. Just over $1 million in ARPA funds were allocated to a total of 18 agencies through this avenue.
The biggest demolition project in city history was also made possible through the ARPA money. The allocation of $1 million for the demolition of neglected and dilapidated properties was so big, city leaders had to divide the work into four separate contracts, each with considerable lists of properties to be razed and cleared.
Other ARPA projects included a $750,000 allocation to Wheeling Heritage for its plan to reconfigure the Wheeling Artisan Center, a $75,800 award to the Ohio County Public Library for its planned upgrades, including improvements to its auditorium and technology upgrades.
Projects dedicated to historic landmarks in town also benefited from the ARPA money. Money was also provided to help the Fort Henry Chapter of the American Revolution with its plans to restore and relocate the McColloch’s Leap monument on Wheeling Hill. Funds were given to the Arthur I. Boreman Statue Committee, which is working to have a statue of the state’s first governor placed on the grounds of Independence Hall.
REQUESTS STILL REMAIN
There are a number of outstanding requests for ARPA funds on the city’s plate, but officials are expected to closely examine the remaining proposals before the last $4 million is distributed.
Last week, presentations were heard on some ongoing historic restoration projects in North Wheeling. The Wood family is working to restore the old Vigilant Firehouse on Main Street, and the Friends of Wheeling are continuing work to restore a historic duplex in the North Wheeling Historic District, as well.
Both projects have received grants from the city’s Facade Improvement Program, but additional funds are needed, and ARPA funds are being sought to help complete these projects.
There are a number of other ARPA requests that city officials have not yet awarded, and according to Herron, the amount of money sought in these outstanding requests – as expected – far exceeds the amount of remaining ARPA funds. Some projects over the past year that officials intended to fund through ARPA money were eventually found to be ineligible or were simply funded through other city sources.
Many members of Wheeling City Council have expressed interest in spending at least a portion of the remaining ARPA funds on a plan for the future of the Nelson Jordan Center – the only city-owned indoor recreation center. However, no solid plan has been put in place to either renovate the aging East Wheeling center or build a new one from the ground up.
City leaders soon are expected to explore all options and determine the most impactful way to distribute the remaining ARPA funds.
“All the projects that have come forward to us were all great projects,” Palmer said. “It’s just the pot is dwindling, and we have to figure out where the money is going to be spent. At some point, somebody is going to be disappointed, because we’re going to be to a negative number.”