EAU CLAIRE — Local issues Eau Claire should address with its $13.5 million share of federal COVID-19 recovery funds will be discussed by the Eau Claire City Council tonight.
A work session on setting priorities for the city’s money from the American Rescue Plan Act is scheduled as part of the council’s 7 p.m. meeting.
Tonight’s discussion won’t award any of the funds to specific programs or organizations, but instead designate general areas the city intends the money to be used.
“What we want to try and do is narrow it down and get consensus on which of these funding buckets should be highest priority,” city Finance Director Jay Winzenz said of the goal for the work session.
Individual council members provided input late last year via an online survey that asked them to designate which of 22 areas of potential funding they would want to see get a portion of the money.
Tonight will be the first time Winzenz will share results of the survey with the full council to start the discussion on what issues are priorities.
Eau Claire residents had an opportunity last year to weigh in on how they would like to see the city’s ARPA funds spent.
There were 443 people who took an online survey between Sept. 10 and Oct. 10 to specify how they would budget the funds between the 22 potential areas.
Coming out on top was addressing pandemic impacts on small businesses, followed by improving care for mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence issues in the community. Aiding development of affordable housing and investing in broadband infrastructure were other causes that scored highly.
If the council is able to reach consensus on top priorities tonight, that will lead to the city asking its own departments and community organizations for specific proposals to address those issues, including requests for ARPA funds to accomplish them.
The city’s entire $13.5 million allocation won’t be spent in just one round of proposals though. Firstly, the city has only received half of its allocation of APRA money because the federal government is distributing funds to communities in two installments. Secondly, Winzenz said the city’s priorities also could change depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.
“We need to continue to be flexible at how we use these dollars,” he said.
The city has until the end of 2024 to designate how the money should. It must be spent by the end of 2026, according to ARPA’s terms.
The Eau Claire County government is also receiving $20.3 million from ARPA. Since July, the County Board has designated a total of $5.55 million, which will be used for broadband infrastructure, help to businesses and nonprofits, responding to the pandemic, county property infrastructure and program administration.
Also during this week’s council meetings:
• The council will decide Tuesday on issuing Eau Claire’s only currently available regular combination Class B alcohol license to one of two business ventures planning to revamp old downtown buildings. Reboot Social intends to open a new bar and restaurant at 220 S. Barstow St. — the former Children’s Museum of Eau Claire — while Fusion Management wants to revive the defunct State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St., as an entertainment and event venue.
• The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire intends to lease 25 stalls in the city parking ramp located along Galloway Street starting in 2023, according to an agreement the council will consider. The parking ramp is next to the construction site for the museum’s new building, which will be located at 126 N. Barstow St.
• The council will vote Tuesday on whether the city’s public meetings should continue to allow remote attendance for another three months. The city has let council members and people serving on city commissions and boards to participate in meetings via videoconferencing systems since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The charter ordinance making that possible requires a vote every 90 days to continue allowing virtual meetings.
• An update on negotiations with city employee labor groups will be presented in closed session today.
• Also in closed session today, the council will discuss a potential sale of city-owned land along Menomonie Street.