Champaign council meeting

For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Champaign City Council members gathered in person Tuesday night.

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CHAMPAIGN — The city of Champaign is poised to receive $25.3 million in American Rescue Plan money over two years — but how to spend it?

The city council will kick off what could be a lengthy process for determining the use of this federal pandemic relief money at its study session tonight.

For starters, City Manager Dorthy David has advised the council to provide some direction to the city administration on guiding principles, on implementing a plan for public input and on developing a process for how outside agencies can make proposals for use of the money.

The city’s funding is part of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package that includes $350 billion in recovery funds for state and local governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

Among other local recipients, Champaign County will be receiving about $40 million in funding over two years and county officials have already reached out to the public to submit proposals for using the money.

City Finance Director Kay Nees said the money is intended for four purposes:

  • Supporting urgent COVID-19 response efforts to get the pandemic under control and decrease spread of the virus.
  • Replacing lost public sector funds.
  • Supporting immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses.
  • Addressing challenges that have contributed to an inequitable impact of the pandemic on certain populations.

Council member Tom Bruno said the city first needs to look at pandemic-related impacts to its income and employment.

He doesn’t have specific ideas about how the money should be spent, he said, “but I do think we need to tend to areas of the city’s traditional sources of income that were devastated during the pandemic. I think we need to fix the damage it has done to our organization before we start new forms of spending.”

Some income that has taken a hit, for example, has been food and beverage tax revenue, he said.

There was also a hiring freeze for a time, he said.

“We need to put people back in those positions and then we can start speaking about what’s left over and what progress we can make on long-term goals,” Bruno said.

Nees said the city will receive half of the $25.3 million in upcoming weeks and the other half a year later.

The city has until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend the money, she said.

Gathering input from the public and the process for accepting proposals will take some time, she said, so council members are also being asked to let the city staff know about any immediate funding priorities they’d like to advance.

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