Visit the MSA COVID-19 Relief Funding Hub for the latest updates about relief funding initiatives in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges each day for municipal government leaders across the country. We can say one thing for certain: none of us have a crystal ball that can reveal how long the crisis will last—and what things will look like on “the other side.” Yet, there are steps Iowa cities can be taking right now to prepare.
Take an honest assessment of your community needs.
If you feel like you’re in constant “response” mode, you’re not alone. You may have placed your strategic visioning activities on hold as you focus on near-term cash and resource management. Now is the time to take stock: what did you plan to do this year, and what have you already completed? What is preventing you from operating most effectively?
This is the optimal time to review all planning documents available to you and city: your capital improvement plan (CIP), comprehensive plan, master plan(s), strategic plan, and any other resources you use to keep your community running. Review compliance schedules. Leverage your trusted community partners to perform a candid, realistic evaluation of your 2020 goals. Determine what you can delegate to trusted partners and what needs to be performed in-house—and by whom.
If you don’t have a CIP, work with community leaders to develop an interim document guiding priorities. Ensure communication is flowing between any and all city departments so that key projects are identified and listed, even if a funding source is not yet identified or available.
A trusted consultant can help develop this document and provide regional perspective, particularly as it pertains to bundling funding sources to develop more “shovel-ready” projects.
Focus on “shovel-ready” projects by continuing to pursue existing Iowa funding programs.
While the COVID-19 crisis is not directly analogous to the 2008 recession and the resulting American Recovery and Reinvestment Action of 2009 (ARRA), past experience dictates that “shovel-ready” projects — projects where planning, engineering and permitting had been done in advance — receive priority.
This is the case for any new funding source: the focus is often placed on existing needs, so to have a seat at the table, you need to be ready for construction as soon as the funding is available.
In preparation for ARRA, MSA helped numerous Iowa communities prepare facility plans for their wastewater treatment facilities due to changes, at the time, in Iowa’s water quality standards. A facility plan considers the capital costs, annual operating costs and long-term treatment capabilities. In other words, it’s a very valuable tool to understand where implementation efforts are best spent. Those same clients planned on using the DNR’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) to assist in paying for their construction projects and many of them qualified for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program as well. The first step in the SRF process is to submit an Intended Use Plan (IUP) application. This sets aside SRF funds for your project. ARRA funds were disbursed through the SRF and CDBG programs. Every project listed on the IUP was offered ARRA grant funding, and the CDBG program doubled up by using the IUP list to disburse their funds as well. This resulted in communities receiving much more in grant funds than they would have in a normal year.
For example, the City of Baxter, who in a normal year may have received a maximum of $300,000 in CDBG grant and no other grant funds, received $2,000,000 in SRF Stimulus grant funding for their wastewater treatment facility and $150,000 in SRF Stimulus grant funding for stormwater improvements.
Leverage your networks.
Your residents are looking to you to keep community operations humming. No matter your staff size, keeping up with the daily (and sometimes hourly) changes can be daunting or just plain overwhelming. Fortunately, we’re all in this together, working toward a common goal: creating and maintaining strong communities. Maintain open lines of communication with your networks and build a group of trusted advisors, like the Iowa League of Cities. Surface the challenges you’re encountering as well as the successes you’ve realized.
How we help.
The MSA team is ready and able to provide any assistance you may need along the way. Helping communities navigate strategic capital planning — and finding the funds to make plans a reality — is what we do, and what we enjoy.