By Sophie Gorman Oriani
At the Sept. 20 city council meeting, the first steps towards a spending plan for Hyattsville’s COVID-19 relief funds were up for a vote.
The City of Hyattsville will receive $17.9 million in relief funds from the federal government under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which is slightly more than the previously anticipated $15 million.
For non-metropolitan cities such as Hyattsville, the ARPA funds were allocated per capita, with a funding cap of 75% of the recipient city’s most recent budget. Larger metropolitan cities receive their funding according to a “modified Community Development Block Grant formula calculation,” which takes into account factors such as population and population growth, as well as poverty levels and the status of housing units.
This difference in funding allocation results in extreme per-capita funding discrepancies, with the metropolitan cities of Gaithersburg and Bowie, each approximately three times the size of Hyattsville, having received $11.5 and $4.7 million respectively.
The city has received 50% of the allocation, and the second half is coming within a year. The city intends to develop a spending plan for the COVID-19 relief funds. In the meantime, though, the city council authorized two items regarding the ARPA funds during the Sept. 20 meeting.
The first item, which was passed without discussion under the consent agenda, authorized an expenditure of $172,800 to a consulting firm, Thomas Michael LLC. This firm will provide oversight and compliance services for the ARPA funds. The expense will be paid with ARPA funds over four years.
Thomas Michael LLC is based in Greenbelt. Michael Himel, who heads the firm, held a variety of leadership roles for Prince George’s County from 2001 to 2018. He was most recently the deputy chief administrator for budget, finance, economic development and administration in the Prince George’s County Office of the County Executive under former County Executive Rushern Baker III, from 2007 to 2018.
During her regular update to the council, City Administrator Tracey Douglas said that the city chose Thomas Michael LLC, out of nine consultants, calling the local firm the best value. Douglas said the city also plans to hire a temporary staff member to help manage the relief funds.
The city council also voted to appropriate $2.5 million of the ARPA funds into the city’s budget. Treasurer Ron Brooks explained that an appropriation must be made before the city can spend funds, and once they are appropriated, the funds can be used for expenditures like hiring Thomas Michael LLC.
While all ARPA funds must be spent on pandemic-related needs, there is no requirement that the funds have to be spent on projects that were conceived of after the funds were received. For example, Douglas clarified that the funds can be used to pay for the planned renovation of the city building’s front office, and installation of the two new bathrooms planned for Hyatt and Heurich parks. Brooks also noted that some of the funds would be used to reimburse information technology expenses, as well as pay for ongoing related costs.
Some of the ARPA allocation will also be used to fund new programs or grants, although the council has not yet decided what those will be or how their funding will be determined. Since certain infrastructure spending, including stormwater management, is allowed, Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) has proposed dedicating some funds to planting trees across the city, especially in areas with less tree canopy.
There’s still plenty of time to decide, though — the final commitment for how to spend ARPA funds doesn’t need to be finished until the end of 2024 or spent until the end of 2026.