The city of Fullerton will receive nearly $35 million in federal relief funds as part of the recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed by President Biden on March 11.
The $1.9 trillion relief bill allocates some funding directly to cities. Fullerton will receive $34,725,762 in total, the first half of which will be sent to the City 60 days after the bill’s certification, and the remaining half one year later.
The text of the bill gives some guidance on how the relief money can, and cannot, be spent. According to City Manager Ken Domer, much of this guidance remains to be released in the next two to six weeks by the US Department of the Treasury.
The funding is one-time-only money. It is not ongoing revenue that can support ongoing operations.
Notably, the bill allows investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure, but not road repair or pension debt.
City Council discussed this funding at the March 16 Council meeting. A key point of discussion was the desire to use funding for road repair, which is not allowed.
Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap said, “I’d like to see us get as creative as possible in using that [funding] to make…road and street improvements, as well.”
He suggested working with local elected officials like Rep. Young Kim to see if the City could get an adjustment made to allow for road repairs.
Councilmember Fred Jung said, “We should find every avenue to ensure this money goes toward infrastructure. I think that’s what the voters would demand.”
City Manager Domer said that, while road repair is not allowed in the City’s specific allocation, the bill contains additional funding for capitol projects, and some of this funding could potentially go toward road repair.
Councilmember Jesus Silva suggested that funding for needed water and sewer repairs, which are allowed under the Bill, be expedited.
The Observer’s Matthew Leslie suggested allocating funding to the Fullerton Museum Center, which saw its funding cut severely and employees laid off as a direct result of the pandemic.
Another point of discussion among Council was how much of the funding would go toward restoring pay for City employees, including those represented by unions.
Restoring pay for top City management positions (including the City Manager), which had taken a 10% cut in July of 2020, appears to be a top priority. Domer said he would be bringing an item for a Council vote at the next meeting to restore that pay.
One of the City’s earliest actions during the pandemic was to lay off 153 part-time employees, mainly in the Parks and Rec department. No mention was made of whether funding would go to restore these employees.
Councilmember Jesus Silva said that the City needs to look at its agreements with labor unions that negotiated the pay cuts during the pandemic, with the understanding that, should relief funding come, the cuts would be restored.
Mayor Whitaker said that the priority should be providing funding for private-sector businesses and employees who lost revenue and jobs due to the pandemic.
“While I’m certainly supportive of being fair with all our labor groups…I think one of the lead criteria in this matter should be to try to apply those tourniquets to those areas that were very severely affected,” Whitaker said, referring to private-sector losses. “We’ve had numbers of people during this pandemic who have not had to worry about their salary or being laid off. To have a large amount of these funds go in that direction, I think would be inappropriate. It should be only very surplus funds that should be utilized in that fashion.”
“Please don’t spend your time, City Manager, counting your chickens,” Jung said.
City Manager Domer said that in the coming weeks he and staff would be bringing to plans and proposals to Council on how to allocated these significant funds.
No specific action was taken at the March 16 Council meeting.