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Politics & Government

Allegheny County Council Committee Takes Next Step Toward Releasing Federal COVID Relief Funds

County Office Building  front door wide.jpg
Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Council Committee on Budget and Finance on Tuesday night discussed how to spend a portion of the county’s $380 million in American Rescue Plan funding. Six of the seven committee members voted to send the legislation to the full council with an affirmative recommendation, while one committee member opposed.

The full council must approve the county’s spending proposal before County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s administration can disburse the money.

The federal funding is meant to help alleviate some of the financial pressures created by the pandemic. The county’s proposed plan would allocate more than $99 million in federal funds for public health and, infrastructure, as well as workers and businesses impacted by the pandemic. It can also be used to “help to recoup pandemic-related revenue losses.”

The remaining funds would be spent over the next two years.

Allegheny County Manager William McKain said the money would help the county replenish some of the revenue lost during the pandemic. County revenues from taxes—including those on hotel rooms and rental vehicles, among other things—declined dramatically during the pandemic.

“Even though, with council leadership and the executive branch, our finances are solid and positive, we really want to make ourselves full,” McKain said.

According to McKain, the $99.75 million that could be spent this year would include $15 million to address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, like lost revenues.

It would also include $37.75 million for public health improvements, such as ventilation and COVID-conscious building improvements at some county offices, Kane Community Living Centers, and childcare and early education facilities. A portion of those funds would go towards expanding the county’s mental health services. Another portion would provide radio communications infrastructure for all public safety departments in the county, including police, fire, and EMS.

$47 million would go towards government services. McKain said the money would allow the county to create site development grants to promote economic development and activity. The county’s Children's Fund, which provides early learning and out-of-school time programs, would also get some funding through the spending plan.

Complete details about how the money would be spent were not available, but McKain said the county would create a public dashboard, similar to the one created for the CARES Act funding, to track expenditures.

Some community members have criticized the lack of public input on how the funds would be spent, a point raised by Democratic council member Bethany Hallam.

McKain said, although his office did not get feedback directly from the public, they spoke with council members and other county officeholders and officials who did hear from constituents.

“And then we looked at what we thought were the most, you know, short term, pressing items that would resonate as far as touching the most people,” he said.

The committee also voted to recommend that two proposals for an additional $44 million in funding for emergency rental assistance be sent to the council for a vote. McKain said that council has already accepted $85.7 million in rental and utility assistance funds to date.

The full council will vote on the spending plan at a later date.