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Vienna holds public hearing on how to spend $17.1M in COVID-19 relief money

Vienna elected officials will discuss how to use the town’s federal COVID-19 relief funds at a meeting next month, though the town council is leaning away from using the money to give essential workers extra pay, Director of Finance Marion Serfass said on Monday (Aug. 30).

The Town of Vienna formally received $8.5 million on July 12 — half of its $17.1 million allotment from the American Relief Plan Act, which is providing the money to help local and state governments respond to the pandemic.

“Any funds that are not expended or that will not be expended on necessary expenditures incurred by December 31, 2024, by the locality…must be returned to the federal government,” Virginia Secretary of Finance Joe Flores noted in a June 9 letter to recipients.

At a public hearing on Monday (Aug. 30), Serfass detailed the limits on how the town can use the money, noting that it can’t independently offer certain services that are provided by the county, such as schools and libraries.

The U.S. Treasury permits localities to spend ARPA funds on four categories, as summarized by the town:

  • Category A: Response to the public health emergency and negative impacts of the pandemic, including capital improvements to adapt buildings and maintenance of park space for deferred upkeep and extra use during quarantine periods
  • Category B: Premium pay to essential workers and grants to employers of essential workers; the only eligible workers in the town would be sanitation and public safety
  • Category C: Provide government services related to revenue reduction from the pandemic
  • Category D: Necessary capital investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure, which has been interpreted to involve stormwater

Serfass said that the town so far has informally elected not to allocate funds to category B but added that the issue could be discussed further.

According to Serfass, the government services category has been interpreted to mean any services that the town provides, which could include cybersecurity improvements, for example. She also said a preliminary calculation suggests the town won’t be allowed to spend more than $2.6 million in this area based on federal restrictions.

The public hearing on Monday drew only one speaker, Bob McCahill, who represented the civic group North East Vienna Citizens Association.

McCahill said his group recommends that the town devote money for water and sewer infrastructure to free up capital money for purchases of equipment that could be used to collect and remove leaves in the fall.

“The idea is that the purchased capital equipment would be much more efficient than the current method,” he said.

The NEVCA has advocated for changes to a town-owned property along Beulah Road that is currently used to store leaves and process them into mulch. The group says those operations disturb residents, and the space should be restored back to a park.

McCahill also said the association wants the town to use the federal money to mitigate parking issues.

The town council will deliberate on how to spend the money in a conference session scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Vienna Town Hall.

The public hearing is closed, and there won’t be public comment at the September meeting, but residents are always encouraged to share their thoughts with the mayor and council, town spokesperson Karen Thayer said in an email yesterday (Tuesday).

Residents can email Town Clerk Melanie Clark at [email protected], call her at 703-255-6304, drop off correspondence at the town hall, or contact elected officials directly.

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