Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch recently held a virtual roundtable with the mayors and town managers of Vermont’s cities to discuss their expectations and needs for federal pandemic relief.
On May 15th, the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act, a bill that is intended to provide $3 trillion in federal COVID-19 aid to individuals, first responders, small businesses, and state and local governments. Congressman Peter Welch said if the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the president, Vermont would receive billions in aid over two years. “It would transfer this year $1.3 billion to Vermont; $1.4 billion to Vermont next year, and this year it would allocate $452 million to our municipalities. As massive as the federal commitment has been and as massive as it would additionally be with the passage of HEROES it’s not going to meet the challenge.”
The mayors and town managers who met with Vermont’s at-large Congressman agreed there is one priority in any pandemic recovery package to municipalities.
Jesse Baker: "Flexibility.”
Tom Hubbard: “Flexible.”
David Allaire: “Flexibility.”
Jesse Baker is Winooski’s City Manager: “Flexibility and how we use the funds being most critical. You know each municipality is different in its diversification of revenue streams and the services it provides. So really leaving that to local control the local elected officials to make determinations about how the money is used I think would be our number one priority. And then also allowing us to use the dollars to invest for growth. In Winooski in our TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district we’ve had a lot of success using public dollars to invest to spur on private investment. So allowing flexibility to use the dollars in that way too would be appreciated.”
South Burlington Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard reinforced the need for local governments to decide how to use the federal funds. “In terms of what the HERO Act might be able to provide us to be as flexible as possible for us with the least amount of restrictions. That’s always a concern that we’re able to get the money but then are we actually going to be able to use it.”
Welch: “I’ve heard that over and over and over again. I absolutely am in agreement with the flexibility.”
Rutland Mayor David Allaire said his city had begun an economic turnaround before the pandemic. “We were just starting to turn the corner before COVID hit, turning our downtown around. We were in the process of hopefully building a downtown 100-room hotel. That project has stopped and will not come back. GE is laying off 225 workers. We don’t believe that they are going to be coming back. I can’t stress enough flexibility. That’s just key because the landscape changes so much so fast.”
St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud says federal aid packages have helped people so far during the pandemic and he is wrestling with how he should or could use federal funds for his city. “I’m grappling in my head I think as many others are how do we pivot ourselves to come out of this as quickly as possible? One of the things that occurs to me is if you could use that to service some debt for the next 3 to 5 years and borrow against it that might be a real catalyst out of it.”
Congressman Welch: “It’s really why I want there to be flexibility. Those are granular decisions. And you might in St. Albans be willing to take on some debt, your taxpayers might be willing to, but maybe not in Newport. You should be making that decision.”
Welch cautioned the mayors that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “against putting more money out” but added he believes there is significant potential for bipartisan support of the HEROES Act in the Senate.