Port Townsend to receive more than $2.7 million in COVID relief

City Council to consider funding priorities

PORT TOWNSEND — It took the Port Townsend City Council four minutes to accept $2,744,304 in American Rescue Plan Act money.

At the start of its special business meeting on Monday, the council paused to hear public comment — of which there was none — and then voted unanimously to formally accept the funds.

Next up: Deciding how to use them.

Half will be disbursed this month and the other half one year from now, so council meetings in the coming weeks will be devoted to spending priorities, said City Manager John Mauro.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds “will make a demonstrable difference in the revenue shortage we had last year,” he added.

There are four eligibility categories, Mauro told the council. ARPA funds, which must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, may be directed to:

• Respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts;

• Respond to workers performing essential work during the health emergency by providing premium pay;

• Provide government services to cover revenue loss related to the health emergency;

• Invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

In an email to the Peninsula Daily News, Mauro outlined the losses the city suffered in 2020 and added he was expecting about $2 million in ARPA money, so the nearly $2.8 million is “a slightly positive outcome.”

Among the losses last year to the city’s coffers: Sales tax revenue was down $546,860, or 14 percent year over year.

Permit fees decreased $147,639, or 43.3 percent, while business licenses were down by $6,878, or 5 percent.

Revenue from fines and penalties decreased $17,370, or 37.2 percent year over year, a drop attributed to the fewer number of tickets issued and fewer prosecutions during the pandemic.

At the same time, the city shrank its spending, including an $837,343 reduction in salaries and wages amid temporary furloughs of workers and the freezing of vacant positions.

Another $212,129 in personnel benefits was cut during 2020.

“We endured about a $1 million revenue loss last year due to COVID in four main areas,” Mauro noted.

Those areas were the general fund, community services fund, streets fund and lodging tax fund.

“While things appear to be turning around some on the revenue side, learning from the 2008 recession, I want to make sure we can endure the coming few years of recovery … I’m likely to suggest strategic uses of funding that help make us whole from our 2020 losses, anticipate the uncertainty of the coming few years, and align with our emerging work in financial sustainability.”

Port Townsend’s 2021 operating budget is $28 million, Mauro added.

The ARPA allocations are based on cities’ estimated 2019 populations; Port Townsend’s was 9,831, according to the state Office of Financial Management report sent to the city.

The report also listed the dozens of communities also receiving COVID relief funding, including Port Angeles, population 20,229, which is in line for $5,646,884; Forks, population 3,880, which stands to receive $1,083,094, and Sequim, population 7,640, whose funding is $2,132,690.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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