The City of San Bernardino will receive $84.89 million in pandemic relief under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), half of which is accessible within 60 days of President Joe Biden signing the bill on March 11, and the other half 12 months later.
“We welcome the dollars coming that is appropriated to the city; I’m very excited and elated,” San Bernardino City Mayor John Valdivia expressed. “We’re $85 million richer as a community, so I want to put these dollars to work for our community.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) provided information on what that funding would entail for the City of San Bernardino during a recent city council meeting, noting over a million state and local employees were laid off during the pandemic, and the legislation secured $350 billion to state and local government.
“The goal is to help bridge some of the economic issues that resulted from the pandemic,” Aguilar explained. “Cities rely heavily on sales tax revenue, and the bill recognizes declining city sales tax revenue due to declining economic activity.”
As a measure in terms of equity, the cities of Fontana and San Bernardino have similar populations but Fontana is receiving $52 million as a result of the formula guided by certain HUD calculations that acknowledged underserved communities.
“I want to be clear that we are doing our share to recognize some of the inequities within the system and those communities that need it most,” noted Aguilar.
The bill discusses 5 fiscal years that are eligible, so the economic loss that San Bernardino has faced as a result of the pandemic is an eligible expense, Aguilar explained.
“Protecting jobs and maintaining essential city services are the key priorities that we want municipalities to focus on,” Aguilar noted. “The goal is to ensure economic stability among our public agencies moving forward.”
The range of eligible expenses is broad – from helping people who have fallen behind on utility or rent payments, homeowner delinquent taxes, water/sewer bills, to city personnel-driven related expenditures and backfilling sales and property tax revenue related losses that have incurred over the pandemic.
“I’ll be working with city council members to ascertain their respective interests,” Valdivia remarked. “I would hope that we would all center in on what’s best for the city.”
The Department of Treasury has yet to provide guidance on how the funding should be used. “We wanted to make sure that this was strategic, but that it could also be used in a targeted way that is most helpful to our shared constituents,” said Aguilar.
“As you develop those guidelines, and what you’re going to use this revenue for, putting an agenda item in the future as you indicate what is going to be allocated, having a communication item of one page, two pages, indicating to all our shared taxpayers what the revenue is going toward would be in all of our best interests,” Aguilar suggested, as a matter of good public policy, transparency and accountability.
The allocation cannot be used for post-employee retirement (pension obligations) or reducing taxes.