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Willmar considers how to spend more than $2 million in pandemic relief funds

The city of Willmar is starting to plan how it wants to spend its American Rescue Plan Act dollars. City Administrator Leslie Valiant presented a few options at the last City Council meeting, though there were some concerns from members on the council.

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The city of Willmar will be receiving a total of $2.1 million from the American Rescue Plan act. Stock art.

WILLMAR — Over the next few years, the city of Willmar will have approximately $2.1 million available from the federal American Rescue Plan Act . The question now facing the city is what exactly to spend the money on and what projects are eligible under the act.

Willmar City Administrator Leslie Valiant, at the Nov. 15 Willmar City Council meeting, presented possible expenditures: turnout gear and radios for the Willmar Fire Department, upgraded software for various city departments and funding the new water line for Epitopix on the far west side of Willmar, which will help facilitate the company's planned expansion of its vaccine manufacturing.

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Willmar city administrator Leslie Valiant presented her first ideas on how the city might spend its American Rescue Plan Act dollars at the Nov. 15 city council meeting. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune
Erica Dischino

The city's legal adviser from Baker Tilly, however, questioned whether the American Rescue Plan funding can be used for the radios and turnout gear, estimated to cost around $210,000. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury , the American Rescue Plan money can be used for projects and programs that can be traced back to the pandemic and its impacts or on water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

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"We know infrastructure, for sure, is one that can be done," Valiant said, in regard to the water line project.

Valiant also believes an argument can be made for the software updates.

"Making things better for our staff to remotely work is one of the criteria," Valiant said.

The council agreed, giving Valiant permission to pursue the software updates and enter into a contract with BergenKDV for professional services to plan and manage the project. The contract will cost no more than $30,000, Valiant said.

"Telework was a big part of the pandemic," said Councilor Andrew Plowman.

For the other projects, additional discussions and planning will need to take place.

While some on the council seemed to have approved of using $500,000 to fund the water line to Epitopix, a project to which the city has already committed, Councilor Audrey Nelsen does not. She does support the Epitopix project but would like to fund it differently and use the American Rescue Plan money for other things, like creating additional bike lanes or completing Americans with Disabilities Act improvements .

"I think there are other infrastructure needs in our community that we should be looking at that would benefit more of the community," Nelsen said.

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The city has until the end of 2024 to spend the funds. Willmar has received the first half of its allocation and will get the second half in summer 2022.

"I think you got some good feedback," said Mayor Marv Calvin to Valiant. "Hopefully this will (spearhead) some of that discussion."

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Willmar city administrator Leslie Valiant presented her first ideas on how the city might spend its American Rescue Plan Act dollars at the Nov. 15 city council meeting. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune
Erica Dischino

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