Federal stimulus package flooding Valley coffers; Record infusion to launch public works projects

(MGN Online)

HARLINGEN — The biggest money stream to flood the Rio Grande Valley is pouring into local government coffers as officials gear up to launch millions of dollars worth of public works projects, opening hundreds of jobs to help pump the economy.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act has started sending counties, school districts and cities half of their allotments this month, with the second half expected to arrive about the same time next year, aimed at helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic’s economic slowdown.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a benefit to the local economy,” City Manager Dan Serna said Monday. “The funding the region has received is the most money I’ve heard of that’s been infused in a region like ours at one time. It’s great news for the area. It’s going to put people back to work, especially if they’re infrastructure projects.”

Last week, $11 million flowed into Harlingen’s coffers, boosting the city’s $48.6 million general fund budget to about $60 million.

At about the same time next year, officials expect the second half of the stimulus check to come in.

On Wednesday, city commissioners are set to revise their budget to reflect the cash infusion.

During the meeting, commissioners are also expected to tap the projects they’ll fund.

“It will be included into the budget so we can move projects forward once the city commission decides the projects,” Serna said.

So far, Serna’s proposed $10.3 million worth of water and sewer projects, $4 million in drainage projects and a $4 million broadband project along with $2.1 million aimed at offsetting revenue losses blamed on the pandemic.

Meanwhile, he’s proposed giving every city employee a $1,000 bonus for working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tight timetable

As part of the federal stimulus package, a spending deadline is set for Dec. 31, 2024.

So across the Valley, the rush is on to launch millions of dollars worth of public works projects.

“You’re going to have the cities and county putting out projects at about the same time — that will potentially increase the cost of the projects and deliverables,” Serna said.

“We’re going to move forward in a very thought-out manner so we can get these projects underway,” he said. “That way we can allocate funding to projects and move them as quickly as we can. The sooner we put them out, the sooner we can comply with the timeframes we have been given. If it’s a drainage or broadband project, it will take several months to design and complete.”

San Benito’s share to more than double $14 million budget

In San Benito, officials were awaiting the first half of the city’s $9.6 million allocation, Commissioner Rene Garcia said.

The city’s total share will more than double its $14 million general fund budget.

“Our community’s been hurting for funding for a while,” Garcia said. “Nothing falls from the sky, but hey, we’ll put this money to good use.”

Officials are considering funding water and sewer projects, he said.

However, federal guidelines won’t allow officials to use the money to fund street repairs, he said.

Cameron County to work with $82 million windfall

In Brownsville, $41 million streamed into Cameron County’s budget last week, the first installment of the county’s $82.1 million stimulus check, Melissa Elizardi, the county’s spokeswoman, said.

So far, officials are planning to launch water, sewer, drainage and broadband projects while helping “our communities that were hit hardest by the crisis,” County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. stated in a press release.

“The coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery funds will provide a needed and necessary resource to address our county’s monthly economic losses and revenue shortfalls and therefore lessen our budget constraints which many local governments such as Cameron County have encountered,” he stated.

“Working through this unprecedented health crisis, this financial assistance will help boost our local economy and provide the much needed resources our families and communities deserve. We will work diligently to prioritize the awarded funds.”