Here’s how Boulder is spending the rest of its ARPA money

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Friday, Dec. 2, 2022

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Amid a dire warning about the perilous economic conditions of low-income Boulderites, city council approved spending for the rest of its federal COVID recovery dollars, with a heavy emphasis on the social safety net. Elected officials also added to the arts budget again, though where the money will come from is TBD.

Boulder is set to get $20 million total via the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. The money can be used in all sorts of ways, from infrastructure projects to direct cash aid for residents.

The city has spent more than $8 million so far, on things like small business support, outdoor dining and human services. (More details below) Thursday night, council OK’d staff’s recommendations for the remaining $11.37 million.

Briefly, the third round of spending will be allocated thusly (more details below):

Ponderosa Community Second Mortgage Program – $3M
Guaranteed Income Pilot Program – $2.75M
Strengthening Behavioral Health Safety Net – $2.5M
Childcare Capacity & Industry Support – $1.5M
Economic Recovery Initiatives – $1.2M
Winter Sheltering – $435,000

‘Safety net will be sorely tested’

There is also $547,231 left over from the first round of funding, money held back for COVID-related public health spending. Staff recommended allocating $397,321 to basic needs (food banks, rental and financial assistance, temporary shelter, etc.) and $150,000 to assist in hiring artists and offsetting the costs to rent theaters, galleries and performance spaces.

Attendance at the public hearing was sparse, but two of three speakers were members of the art community. Kari Palazzari, of Studio Arts Boulder, extolled the benefits of arts funding, and Dave Fulker, a board member of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, asked the arts allocation to be increased by $100,000.

Read a thread from Thursday night’s discussion

Councilwoman Tara Winer proposed borrowing that amount from the still-to-be-launched guaranteed income pilot, which won’t be operational until spring or summer of next year.

“I’m not saying in any way the safety net is not the most important thing,” Winer said. But “it’s not starting immediately; we can reallocate this and backfill for guaranteed income.”

But some members of council were unsure, especially following comments from Julie Van Domelen, director of the nonprofit EFAA, which serves low-income families with children.

“We are the canary in the coal mine for the local safety net,” Van Domelen said. “We’re seeing some really disturbing signals in our community. Over half of our clients are reporting less income than before the pandemic. Our food bank is breaking records in its 100-year history … (and) we expect the situation to worsen in coming months” as the county’s rental assistance ends and temporarily expanded federal assistance shrinks.

“All things are pointing in the same direction toward a very, very difficult winter,” Van Domelen concluded. “Our safety net is going to be sorely tested.”

Instead of taking from the guaranteed income pilot, which will give cash payments to low-income residents, council members directed staff to find $100,000 extra for the arts — from where, they didn’t say.

“All in favor of the proposal on the table for the $100,000 of additional funding to come from a place at staff’s discretion?” Mayor Aaron Brockett asked. Council was unanimous in support, though the vote was informal; the money will officially be approved next year. (Editor’s note: The above linked thread incorrectly stated that councilwoman Nicole Speer was against the allocation; she gave a reluctant and late yes.)

More need than money

It is an unusual move, but Boulder will likely bring in more money in 2022 than was budgeted for. City finance staff, Thursday and during earlier budget discussions, said excess revenue should be available given current trends.

The city has upped arts funding in recent years, including earlier rounds of COVID recovery dollars. But arts still makes up less than half a percent of the city’s operating budget.

Of the Round 3 allocation for arts funding, Matt Chasansky, city arts and culture manager, said, “We could spend all that money on rental assistance and not meet that need.”

Council also made routine adjustments to the 2022 budget, including $4 million in cost overruns for ongoing construction projects due to inflation. $2.8 million was shifted from two funds — $2.6 million from the general fund and $200,000 from the liability insurance fund — to cover the cost of two settlements related to police action, paid out earlier this year.

ARPA funding – current round (to be approved next year)

Mental health safety net ($2.5M)
– $1.75M to mental health orgs to retain, train and develop staff. Orgs with case workers or staff therapists will be prioritized
– $500K for private orgs to take Medicaid patients – either gaps in reimbursement, hiring contractors or consultants to help with billing/tracking and/or training and certification
– $100K for mental health case management for people working with Housing and Human Services on eviction prevention or other services
– $150K for diversity access to mental health (vouchers, language access, etc.)
+ Funds as necessary to evaluate efforts

Childcare ($1.5M)
– $700K to renovate Salberg Community Center so it can be child care facility
– $200K for training, capacity building for Spanish-speaking providers. Includes training, business development/skills,
– $600K to expand city child care subsidy to families who don’t qualify for federal or state funds but are experiencing financial strain

Guaranteed income pilot project ($2.75M)
– $2.4M will actually be cash payments; rest will be administrative and startup costs

Second mortgage program ($3M)
– Will allow Ponderosa owners to buy new, energy efficient mobile homes
– Second mortgage due at 30 years or sale of home
– Average of $100K assistance per home is estimated ($80K if interest rates go down)
The money will become “a revolving fund not just for Ponderosa, but for other communities in the future as well,” HHS Director Kurt Firnhaber said, as mortgages are paid off and the city reimbursed.
– 39% of Ponderosa residents identify as Hispanic/Latino compared to 10.3% of the population for Boulder, and 3% Native American/Alaska Native compared to the .1% for the city.

Winter sheltering ($435,269)
“The rising costs of this service, through hotels and increased use of space at local shelters, requires additional city funding.”
“The vast majority of funds would be used for the cost of hotel rooms, meals, and transportation for people needing shelter, and additional funds for staffing”

Economic recovery ($470,000)
– $250K for outdoor dining
– $200K for art, events, programs for lagging business districts
– $20K for Uni Hill recovery

Transformative economic recovery opportunities ($715,000)
– $50K for workforce development programs
– $60K for BIPOC business support
– $225K for businesses to diversity revenue, including gov’t contracts; also for city’s procurement program; special emphasis on women- and minority-owned biz
– $380K to help pay for increased costs of office/retail/etc. space (mostly for research into best practices, possible methods)

ARPA funding – Rounds 1 and 2

First round: $3,977,200
Service restoration: $868,600
– Restoration of recreation services: $600K
– Restoration of severe weather shelter funding: $200K
– Restoration of public art programming: $25,100.
– Restoration of neighborhood connections grants: $43,500
Immediate Needs: $2,108,400
– Infrastructure for internet to BHP: $888,400 (11 sites, 356 units, avg income $26,731)
– Small biz support/recovery: $420K ($150K for tourism promotion, $50K for vaccine and testing/event safety, $103,170 for delivery fee subsidy, $100K for outdoor dining pilot, $10K for retail industry recovery, $6,830 for BIPOC biz support
Public Health Reserve: $1M

Second round: $4.806M
$250K to explore guaranteed income
$100K for childcare (biz training and existing biz grants)
$900K for economic recovery ($200K for tourism promotion, $550K for small biz support, $150K for outdoor dining pilot)
$500K for HHS programs
$191K for community connectors
$1.5M for homeless services (outreach, daytime programming, housing retention)
$50K for fiber internet buildout
$1.215M for arts (artist hiring, public art programs)

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle or on Mastodon:

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