From Newport City Hall
Congress passed and the President signed a package of stimulus programs called the American Rescue Plan (ARP). This plan provides for a direct payment to states, counties, and cities to offset various lost revenue and expenses incurred by those units of government in dealing with the COVID–19 pandemic. The League of Oregon Cities distributed estimates from the House Committee on Oversight on what each city in Oregon may receive. The City of Newport would receive $2.2 million dollars spread over two years. Cities would receive the funds up front, and would be responsible for submitting periodic reports to the U.S. Treasury detailing how the funds are being spent. In general, the funds are to be used to respond to the public health emergency, its negative economic impacts including assistance to households, businesses, and non–profits, and to aid impacted industries such as tours, travel,and hospitality. It also is available for necessary investments in water, sewer facilities and broadband. These funds cannot be used to reduce taxes or to be deposited into pension funds. It is expected that the U.S. Treasury will issue guidance, further defining how these funds can or cannot be used.
Overall, the City should be in a good position to justify lost revenues, and may be able to recoup the remaining portion of the $1 million dollars that was provided to the City as a local business stimulus program from June, 2020. While we are unable to make any specific decisions on this issue at this point, City Manager Spencer Nebel wanted to have a general discussion with Council on these funds to think about how they may be used to move several things forward. The City will be able to use the funds directly for any eligible expenses. In cases where we are reimbursing ourselves for eligible expenses, Nebel believe those funds could be used in any way the City feels is appropriate, since the initial purpose would have been satisfied under the initial reimbursement.
In addition to the direct payment to cities, the American Rescue Plan is injecting funds into programs that the city can indirectly take advantage of as well. City staff is continuing to monitor this evolving funding picture to assure that the City can take full advantage of the funding coming through any of these programs. Finally, the League of Cities is recommending that communities be very transparent and provide reports and communications back to our federal elected officials as to how these funds have benefited our communities. This feedback is important for future programs, including the infrastructure plan that has been recently announced by President Biden.
Homeless Camps/Private Property Clean–up: In 2017, a landmark case in Boise, Idaho has provided protection for people sleeping outside if they did not have reasonable alternative shelter. In response, many cities started issuing tickets and fines instead of charging people with misdemeanors. Last year, a federal court ruled in a case involving Grants Pass that these citations violate the Boise decision, citing “the cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. As a result, there has been a high level of uncertainty as to how to best deal with camping in inappropriate locations. These decisions impact public properties and public rights–of–way. Earlier this year, House Bill 3115 would require local governments to be “objectively reasonable” when regulating sleeping, lying about or keeping warm and dry on public property. At a staff level, Nebel says the city has been trying to identify locations where camping could be authorized to give the city an opportunity to find more appropriate locations for camping on public property. Nebel thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion with the City Council to receive direction with how the city might proceed with this. City Planning Director Derrick Tokos has included maps showing City–owned parcels and property. The other important factor is that these locations need to be relatively close to services used by homeless individuals. It’s a big daunting problem that the city will continue to work on.
Meanwhile as our nation’s economy slowly claws back above ground, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to its staying power which relies heavily on the generosity of those who work in the White House and the U.S. Congress. It’s a little known fact that the United States can print a lot of money…money that can help re-vitalize our economy and raise up millions of American families back to something resembling what we’re used to – enough for food, clothing, shelter and getting good jobs – aka normalcy.