Flagstaff City Council met on Tuesday to consider the American Rescue Plan Act’s local recovery funding and a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey advocating for expanded post-wildfire funding.
One of the first items on the agenda was a discussion to approve a letter to request Gov. Ducey expand HB2001 — allocating funds for communities impacted by wildfires in 2021 — to include support for cities that continue to experience impacts from previous wildfires. Without much discussion over the draft letter, council unanimously approved submitting it for Gov. Ducey’s consideration.
The most discussed item on the agenda was the funding Flagstaff will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act for State and Local Recovery Funds. Based on allocations from the federal government, the city is slated to receive $13,252,816 to help the local economy recover from the pandemic.
City staff plans on reserving $4.5 million for possible lost revenue, leaving $8,752,816 to be distributed to various programs. Together, staff and the Budget Team have facilitated this plan.
The Budget Team’s proposal includes, among other items, a vaccination incentive plan, water/wastewater cybersecurity advancements and alternate care sites, such as possible shelter medical facilities, with behavioral health support. Furthermore, this assistance would include a one-time grant of $1 million for down payment assistance, development of new rental units and eviction prevention in the community.
Devonna McLaughlin, CEO of HousingSolutions of Northern Arizona, a local affordable housing non-profit, advocated for additional allocation of funds to affordable housing efforts.
“Invest in making sure that there are units available for our workforce and for folks experiencing homelessness,” McLaughlin said, “You name it, you can find needs.”
Councilmember Adam Shimoni requested insight from McLaughlin into how this funding would help affordable housing, and specifically eviction prevention, in Flagstaff.
“I’ll tell you, as a landlord, who really works with their tenants to get through and navigate that portal and to get assistance to folks, it’s not the easiest,” McLaughlin said, “I can only imagine how much harder it would be if you didn’t have a landlord who was helping you. Those are the barriers that I see:Getting the money to the people who need it, not a lack of funding.”
Councilmember Shimoni voiced interest in reducing the funds allocated to a vaccination incentive program and other programs to allow space in the budget for McLaughlin’s plan, as well as directing more funds toward food agencies and temporary job opportunities for those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“If you want a vaccine, you can get it. It’s free,” Shimoni said. “You know, we can push the people as much as we want, but at the end of the day it needs to be their choice to get the vaccine.”
Moreover, Mayor Paul Deasy and Vice Mayor Becky Daggett supported Shimoni’s proposal to diminish funding from other programs to provide more for affordable housing. Other options for additions and reductions to the proposed budget plan were also discussed, including further funds for job training.
Although council did not vote on the proposal, the Budget Team plans on using council direction to research new ways to support the city’s recovery and to further review allocations. The refined budget will be presented for approval within the next month.