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Dickinson city administrator talks ARPA funding; approves premium pay for city employees

City Adminstrator Brian Winningham provided an overview of how the American Rescue Plan Act could impact the City of Dickinson from employees, programs and offsetting city fees.

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Dickinson City Administrator Brian Winningham speaks at a previous Dickinson City Commission meeting. Winningham provided an overview of the American Rescue Plan Act relief funding during a meeting to the Dickinson City Commission Dec. 21, 2021, on how those funds will impact the city, employees and residents. (Dickinson Press file photo)

DICKINSON — On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — which is the fourth COVID-19 related economic response package and the first-ever relief funding that has been directly allocation to municipalities. The City of Dickinson is expected to receive a total of $3.6 million in funding from ARPA, with the city having already received the first half of those funds last year. The city expects to receive the second installment by the fall of 2022 — raising the questions of how to best allocate the funds.

City Administrator Brian Winningham provided an overview during the Dec. 21 Dickinson City Commission meeting on the ARPA relief funding that the federal government intends to pass — which is estimated at $1.9 trillion and will be distributed across the country. So far, Dickinson has received $1.8 million and Winningham noted that the city anticipates to receive that same amount by September.

“... We can’t say we guarantee that money is going to be here, but we do want to ensure that we take a conservative approach to that money (if it) were not to show up — just based on the federal government changing the guidance,” Winningham said. “There has been guidance that have changed; they call it an, ‘Interim Final Rule of Treasury.’”

Allowable uses for ARPA funding

Winningham noted that the City of Dickinson has had previous discussions on this ruling at recent Dickinson City Commission meetings. Allowable uses of these funds are to support public health expenditures, address negative impacts caused by public health emergencies, replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Public health expenditures include services and programs to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from personal protective equipment purchases, ventilation improvements in public facilities and qualified payroll. Addressing negative economic impacts caused by the world-wide public health emergency includes supporting small businesses by tackling financial challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic through loans, grants and in-kind assistance; aid to households and individuals; and speeding the recovery of the tourism, travel and hospitality sectors.

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Providing premium pay for essential workers include “those workers needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors,” according to city documents. This allowable use is not intended to be used for elected officials and it cannot exceed $25,000 per eligible employee.

According to city documents, these funds cannot be used to offset tax, to either directory or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of the state or territory resulting from a covered change during the covered period. The funds are prohibited to be deposited in pension funds or used to fund debt services, legal settlements/judgements and deposits to rainy day funds or financial reserves.

What Dickinson intends to do with those funds

After taking guidance from the board of commissioners at the Dec. 7 meeting, Winningham said that there are several opportunities to use these funds effectively. One option could be a city fee offset; which differs from taxes. Approximately $1.16 million of that relief package could be used to refund Dickinson residents — $642,000 for 2020 and $517,000 for 2021 — which has already been collected in fees, Winningham said, noting that a large portion stems from alcoholic-liquor licenses at $125,000.

With the remaining $2.44 million, the city could use roughly $650,000 to offer a moratorium to residents in 2022, where the city wouldn’t collect any fees, Winningham continued. Though the city would still account for the fee, it wouldn’t collect any of those dollars from the residents, he added.

Another option is using up to $400,000 to relieve the city’s burden for the contingency fee of the Dickinson Town Square project — an authorized use since the project is for the betterment of the community, he said.

With the $1.39 million remaining, Winnningham noted that $499,500 could be used as premium pay for essential workers for the city.

“... If we don’t take care of employees now or at least try to give them the benefit of being an essential worker especially for a city government, we’re going to lose them… There’s many options. It’s a good problem to have in the City of Dickinson, to be able to find employment, to be able to have low unemployment, to be able to go and find jobs. City governments cannot keep pace with the private sector. It’s always been the case — we’re trying to get the environment right. And so, one of those small ways is to… (provide) premium pay,” he said.

Though some agencies provide a cost of living allowance each year, Winningham noted that the most efficient option for the city’s budget would be a one-time payment.

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“As a lean city, when I say lean, we don’t have a lot of overages in our employment. If you look at other cities with the size of population that we have and the amount of services we have, we are probably 30% lower (in) employment as far as employees on the books,” he said. “So we do a lot of substantial work for the City of Dickinson with a lot less people. It might not look much like that in City Hall where you have staff workers and administrative workers. Although incredibly important, it’s the unseen work that’s being done. We are effectively down four positions in our street maintenance ; those are critical needs especially in the winter.”

This option would also help with retention numbers, Winningham said, which is an issue the city continues to wrestle with. Inflationary costs are “outpacing any government’s ability to adapt” because typically, governments are budgeted annually and not on a month-to-month basis. This puts city governments sometimes at disadvantages because the private sector can afford to pay higher wages, he added.

“It’ll be something we’ll talk about in the coming months… I know it was done in the past when there was an oil boom, but we’re faced with some really incredible challenges when it comes to our inflationary costs,” he remarked.

Winningham laid out three options for premium pay for essential workers, from $3,000, $2,500 to $2,000. After discussion, Commissioner John Odermann motioned to approve a premium pay of $2,400 to full-time city employees and $1,200 to part-time city employees prorated for the period of time worked in 2021. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Jason Fridrich.

In the coming months, the Dickinson City Commission will continue discussing how it will allocate the remaining funds of the ARPA relief funding — which must be officially committed by Dec. 31, 2024, unless used for projects. In that case, those projects must be completed by Dec. 31, 2026.

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