News-Miner opinion: The Fairbanks North Star Borough received an $18.8 million slice of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act for Covid-19 response and recovery. The question is how to spend the money.
The discussion on spending the direct funds, which the borough is to receive in two equal installments, continues tonight at the Borough Assembly’s special finance committee meeting. The assembly asked for the first installment this spring.
The federal act’s mandatory funding, program changes and tax policies all are aimed at mitigating the pandemic’s continuing health and economic effects. The money must be spent by 2026.
As the American Rescue Plan, one of the largest economic rescue plans in U.S. history, allows local governments wide latitude in using the money, it could be used to help households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries such as tourism and hospitality hit hard by the pandemic.
The borough also can use the grant to provide premium pay to essential workers or grants to their employers, and make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, along with responding to the economic impacts of Covid-19.
Keeping in mind there are trillion-dollar infrastructure measures working their way through Congress, we wonder whether water, sewer and broadband infrastructure would not be a better fit in those packages. While there will be calls to use the Covid relief money for everything from revitalizing Pioneer Park to finally demolishing the eyesore Polaris Building in downtown Fairbanks, there may be better uses for economic stimulus funding earmarked for pandemic recovery.
In our view, the first thing the borough should recognize is that, thankfully, there is no rush, no need to be swept up in a stampede to spend the money. The borough has five years, plenty of time to craft and amend a spending plan, and there may be, after all, future needs, perhaps as early as this winter, as Covid-19 again rears its head in some areas.
While there are many spending options, the lion’s share of the money, after a multiyear plan is drafted by the borough assembly, should be earmarked to help individuals and businesses devastated by the pandemic get back on their feet.
From where we sit, a carefully designed, multiyear plan to help those most hurt by the pandemic is the best way to use the money to do the most good.