Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington City Council members went back and forth on plans to spend federal dollars expected through the American Rescue Plan Act during their regular meeting last week.
City Administrator Brent Hinson said water and sewer spending were the easiest options for the city’s anticipated $1 million allocation.
“The guidance on any of the other uses is much more vague at this point in time,” Hinson said in a memo. “In any areas outside of water and sewer, the city would need much more planning time and analysis to determine eligibility of and appropriateness for funding.”
While the council broadly agreed with Hinson’s water-centric priorities, there was some push back over the finer details.
Council member Steven Gault took issue with one of Hinson’s proposed expenditures, a $125,000 sewer boring project around a developing Country Club area subdivision.
“I see no reason that we are helping a private developer with a sewer problem that can be done with a lift station and be their responsibility,” Gault said. “We have other places to spend this money … We need to be spending our money on our own projects, not some developer who's developing housing for what I would classify as the mega-rich of Washington, Iowa.”
While council member Danielle Pettit-Majewski agreed with the urgent need for some water infrastructure spending, she proposed redirecting some of the money to other city priorities, such as child care and housing.
“This pandemic disproportionately impacted parents, especially mothers and especially women in workforce,” she said. “The purpose of this money is to help our communities be more resilient, and those are the types of infrastructure needs that we also need to help the people who are going to be impacted.”
While Pettit-Majewski didn’t have specific uses for the money in mind, she said it was still important to consider the city’s options.
“We know there’s the infrastructure part, having the places, we know there’s the workforce part because there’s a pay inequity for those positions,” she said. “My idea is to bring up the topic, and then we can do the leg work, but we need to at least have the conversation that we need to be thinking about some of our people infrastructure.”
Council member Elaine Moore agreed.
“I would like to see … what we can do to strengthen our city for the work force that we need here and the housing that we need here,” she said. “Those who don’t have a voice and the underserved need more of a voice, and to be served more so that they can become a part of this great community. And I think there’s ways we can use this money that would do that.”
Gault said he preferred the focus on water and sewage but didn’t actively oppose options floated by Pettit-Majewski and Moore.
“What we have been working on and striving for is to get water mains and sewers and stuff like that back up to running in this town,” he said. “If we end up with some extra money, then so be it, that’s what we use, because I personally think that right there is a problem that is going to bite us if we do it wrong.”
Council members did broadly back Hinson’s proposal for a $540,000 water main replacement along West Madison Street from Avenue H to Highway 1 & 92. Committing only to that project would leave just under half of the expected $1 million for other priorities.
Hinson said the West Madison investment would round out replacements already budgeted for other parts of that line, which breaks around five times per year.
“We’re doing the worst section on Madison, but the rest of it will just start breaking more often when we replace it with good water main,” Hinson said. “We do not have dollars for that at all in our five-year capital improvement plan.”
The city has yet to formally commit the funds one way or another, with little time pressure from the federal government. Plans for ARPA spending are not due until 2024, and the money can be spent any time before 2026, according to Treasury guidelines.
“I think we do have a consensus on the biggest piece of that pie,” Mayor Jaron Rosien said. “I appreciate that council has multifaceted opinion that they’ve discussed so far that includes both potential social and a stronghold of infrastructure.”