The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways—but with the federal funding we’ve received through the American Rescue Plan, some of those changes can be for the better.
Victoria recently was allocated $14.5 million through the federal American Rescue Plan to help our community recover from COVID-19 and to improve our resiliency against future pandemics. As we work to build a stronger Victoria, your City leaders want to be sure that our priorities align with residents’ goals, which is why we created an open submission process for residents to share their ideas for how the funds should be spent.
Compared to the CARES Act funds that we received last year, the American Rescue Plan funding can be used for a wider variety of purposes. In addition, because we are no longer in the middle of an emergency, we are able to spend more time developing a strategic response.
Within the broad scope of possible funding uses, the City Council identified five categories that align with our community’s needs: broadband, utility infrastructure, tourism/travel industry, community grants and economic development. Additionally, we recognize the need to continue ensuring excellent service by investing in City employees and recouping financial losses we experienced due to the pandemic.
Within the five aforementioned categories, our residents have submitted dozens of responses, which City staff used to create recommendations that were presented to the City Council on July 20. Many respondents want to prioritize helping low-income or vulnerable populations through community grants. We look forward to vetting proposals from our local nonprofits to ensure dollars are spent on transformational efforts that will improve services in our community.
We also know that broadband improvements are important to our residents, a reality that’s reflected in the hundreds of responses to our broadband improvement survey. Some funding from the American Rescue Plan has already been set aside for the ongoing broadband feasibility study, and we’ll be actively looking for more ways to leverage this program and other resources as we seek to improve broadband access.
Utility infrastructure was another popular category. Residents will be glad to know that the City’s recommendations included a review of our water monitoring system as well as a study to identify areas that are vulnerable to stormwater infiltration. These investments will yield opportunities to build a more resilient water system that can better serve residents through floods and freezes.
Understandably, we also received multiple proposals related to transportation and street improvements. Unfortunately, those projects are ineligible: Funding can be used for broadband and utility improvements but not for other types of infrastructure. Nevertheless, the City is committed to increasing funding for streets and other capital improvement projects. On Aug. 3, I will formally present the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, which will include a $31 million budget for capital improvement projects—the highest CIP budget in the history of Victoria.
We’ve already received half of our American Rescue Plan funding allocation, and some of the projects we’ve identified will be included in the upcoming budget so that we can start on them right away. Others need to be vetted further, and we plan to give a recommendation on the remaining projects before we receive the rest of our funding next year.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, but this funding will help us continue on the path to recovery and prepare for the future. I’m excited for this opportunity to make our community more resilient.
Jesús A. Garza is the city manager for the City of Victoria.
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