Editorial: Tell city, county leaders how American Rescue Plan money should be spent

Two different approaches.

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen:

"Commissioners are still considering the appropriate options for the investment of the funds from the new American Rescue Plan Act. We welcome input from any citizen of Whitfield County on their ideas. The three key criteria should be: thoughtful, compassionate and generational. Thoughtful meaning well-planned and fiscally responsible. Compassionate, in order to provide benefits to as many citizens as possible, especially our seniors and families most impacted by the (COVID-19) pandemic. Finally, generational is important so the investment will provide our community with advantages well into the future."

Dalton Mayor David Pennington:

He has heard "basic outlines" of how the city can spend the money. "It can be tourism, infrastructure, things like that," he said. "Tourism was one of the things hit hardest by COVID. We think it will fit in with some of the things we are already doing." Pennington pointed to the planned improvements on Market Street -- including wider sidewalks, on-street parking, decorative benches and lighting, and moving electric, telephone and cable lines underground -- as well as an aquatics center planned for near the Dalton Mall as projects that might be funded from the stimulus money.

They are talking about potential uses for millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Congress passed in March.

City of Dalton officials expect to receive about $10.9 million over two years.

Jensen said the National Association of Counties told county officials Whitfield County is likely to receive about $20.3 million over two years.

Which avenue is correct? Taking a wait-and-see approach while asking for input from county residents or focusing on specific projects such as an aquatics center -- there it is again -- that have nothing to do with the purpose of the legislation, which Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University noted is "to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the public health emergency" caused by COVID-19.

Bilmes said that "means to replenish lost revenue, restore local services, and to rehire state and local workers laid off in the past year, especially teachers and school workers. The rescue funding is needed to plug budget holes in schools, housing, parks, public health, transit, local services, social programs and basic infrastructure. Nearly every state, county and local government deferred spending for maintenance (for example for roads, water treatment, sewerage and utilities) that needs to be fixed urgently.

"These governments also need to strengthen their capacity -- for example, ensuring that local public health authorities are better equipped to handle future health emergencies and helping millions of children who have missed out on schooling get back on track."

So a measured approach is called for. It is hard to see where an aquatics center fits into this equation. And as for the planned improvements on Market Street, why should the aptly named Rescue Plan Act money be used for something that private businesses should pay for?

We advise our local officials to slow down, step back and evaluate exactly what our community needs and how this money can best be used to accomplish those purposes.

This is a great deal of money that needs to be spent wisely, not cavalierly. Priorities should be to keep people in their homes, keep the food insecure fed and ensure the continued vaccination of the populace and the easy availability of COVID-19 testing.

The money could also be used to assist with tax relief, which will help those who have been economically battered by COVID-19.

Jensen makes a good point. Input from the community -- you -- is needed.

Take an active role and talk to your city and county representatives about how you and your neighbors can benefit from this "windfall" that is a result of a more than a year-long, enervating pandemic.

Let them hear from you, and then hopefully their decisions will be made for the overall good of the community, not just a segment here or a sector there.

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