Speaking Out: The American Rescue Plan: A Critical Moment

Karen Alexander, NCLM President

Over the last several weeks, the League of Municipalities has been diligently working to help member cities and towns prepare as American Rescue Plan funding is made available to each.

No work is more crucial right now.

Working with Governor Roy Cooper’s administration, State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s office, state agencies, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the UNC School of Government, NCLM has helped provide informational sessions to help cities and towns understand ARP funding and prepare. The League’s communications staff has created a great web microsite to provide you with information and resources.

I urge all of you to take advantage of these resources and future informational sessions.

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Never has federal funding—neither in its quantity nor its directness—been provided to our communities like it will be over the next few weeks. This support will not only help us recover from the devastation of the pandemic, but also has the capacity to allow us to thrive long into the future.

In total, North Carolina cities and towns will receive $1.3 billion. The state of North Carolina will receive another $5.7 billion.

As this money is available, it is incumbent on all of us, in each of our communities, to truly reflect on and seek guidance regarding what is the best use of this money. How can these dollars be utilized in ways that are the most effective and efficient at improving citizens’ lives?

Investments in projects that have long-term impacts on residents’ quality of life, that create economic opportunity and that help solve some of our greatest challenges may be able to be addressed with these dollars. The possibilities include projects that make our communities more attractive to new residents, those that address infrastructure needs like water and sewer, or those that improve transportation and accessibility.

The ARP also presents a unique opportunity to explore partnerships with neighboring cities and towns, counties, and other governmental units. Many of these partnerships are already taking shape across our state, and they offer great promise to our communities and to extending the effectiveness of each dollar received. By combining funding and addressing needs across corporate limits, transformational projects may be more possible.

A few years from now, people will look back on the American Rescue Plan and the ways that it did and did not transform communities. They will look at whether the purposes on which it was spent created a legacy of a better North Carolina, or whether opportunities were squandered.

That is why we are pushing a message of “hurry up and wait.” Hurry up to start the conversations to determine your towns or cities priorities. Wait, by reflection and seeking input and guidance, to determine how to best spend these dollars. As you receive pitches and suggestions, ask whether they align with the larger priorities of your community and the visions of its residents, and whether it will achieve lasting results.

The funds will be received within weeks. Spending deadlines are not for years. The impact of our decisions will last for decades. We are excited to create better cities and towns, and thus, a better North Carolina. With patience and prudence, we can all get there.