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New federal funding could help combat flooding, among other city priorities

In the latest adaptation of Brewster’s Millions, Alexandria is sorting through how to make the most of $59.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding coming to the city over the next two years with an emphasis on not leaving a penny unspent.

The challenge for Alexandria is sorting through some ill-defined language. According to the city, funding can be allocated in the following ways:

(A) To respond to the public health emergency with respect to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality; or

(B) For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue of such metropolitan city, non-entitlement unit of government or county due to such emergency; or

(C) To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

Members of the City Council noted in a meeting last night (Tuesday) that the first and third items are fairly clear, but what is considered making up for a reduction in revenue is more vague.

“It does seem like the second item on the list, revenue lost item… how that gets defined by the federal government is going to be really decisive to what we can and can’t spend money on,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “That second point could be defined very broadly or very narrowly. And how they define that will determine how expansive that will be.”

Staff are currently planning to present options to the City Council at the July 6 meeting so the city can get more defined answers on funding requirements and restrictions.

But even with just the more well defined points, the funding comes as a welcome relief for a city still grappling with the economic impact of COVID-19. The region also combatted severe flooding over the last few years, and the city has been working to prioritize stormwater improvements in the aftermath.

“I don’t know how far along we are with our flooding stuff, but want us to focus on that,” said Council member Del Pepper. “Everyone is tired of the flooded basement and raw sewage.”

Council member John Chapman said the city should also use some of that funding to leverage public-private partnerships, with the new assistant city manager tasked with managing those partnerships mentioned now at least twice in a public meeting this past week.

“I think this is a great opportunity, if not too early, to engage our P3 coordinator to see how we can leverage these one time funds to get something popping in his portfolio,” Chapman said.

One of the important points reiterated multiple times is that the city should scrape the bottom of the barrel on this funding and ensure nothing is left to waste.

“Let us be mindful at all times that this community will be unforgiving if we do not spend all of that money,” Pepper said. “Now we just can’t go out and throw it in the streets, but there has to be — maybe not the best plan — but some plan, and God only knows we have plenty of things we can spend it on.”

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