With an expected $20 million in AZCares funding expected, Peoria’s plan is to put at least some of the money in the pockets of residents and business owners.
According to information on the AZCares Fund, “The direct allocations must be used on payroll expenses related to an entity’s public health and public safety expenses from March 1 through Dec. 30.”
But that does not mean all of the $20 million that Peoria is applying for must go to the police and fire departments.
“I want cities to have maximum flexibility and minimal red tape,” Gov. Doug Ducey said, regarding the $440 million of federal CARES Act funds that will go to Arizona cities and towns through the AZCares Fund.
A June 2 study session unveiled a rough plan to help businesses and residents. Andrew Granger, a Peoria deputy city manager, later said city staff members are working on specifics for the $20 million. “We’ll be bringing a resolution June 16 to city council for a vote,” Granger said.
He emphasized that, while the AZCares money will free up money, “The main point is that we are getting reimbursed for public safety and public health-related costs. We will put this reimbursement money back into the city’s general fund, which can be used for any general government purpose,” Granger said.
Ultimately, he said, “We can utilize (AZCares funding) for anything general fund related.”
Granger said there may be money to help residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic pay rent through Peoria’s Neighborhood and Human Services department.
“It could be helpful for seniors in need because of COVID-19,” he added. “It could potentially be utility assistance.”
But, Granger noted, “A large portion of (AZCares funding) will be set aside to help us with our budget deficit.”
The deficit could be as high as $12 million.
“Based on revenues from March and what we’re seeing in April, we think it’s going to be better than that. The deficit is smaller,” Granger said.
Reduced revenues led Peoria to a late-stage rewrite of the $665 million budget tentatively approved by city council May 19.
“We did an economic update showing we had a structural deficit,” Granger said. “By state statute, we have to pass a budget to have spending authority—but our budget was not in balance.”
The cuts will have to be made. “The CARES funding will help us in minimizing those reductions,” Granger said.
“We don’t foresee layoffs,” he said. Expected cuts will come in not filling vacant positions, travel and training, according to Granger.
“We want to provide critical core services to our residents,” Jeff Tyne, the city manager, said at the June 2 study session.
He said he anticipated “significant funding to offset the financial burden of this crisis.”
Tyne emphasized that the city’s Economic Development Department has been working with businesses since the pandemic hit the area.
“Businesses very quickly were looking for rent relief, utility assistance—anything that would help to address the significant drop in revenue we saw, especially with local businesses,” Tyne said.
In addition to residents asking for help making housing payments, “food assistance and utility payment relief was something we also are hearing,” Tyne said.
That has led to a trickle-down effect to organizations that help challenged populations. “Nonprofits have so many new customers and needs,” Tyne said.
Now, Peoria may have funding to assist residents and businesses.
The $20 million in CARES/AZCares funding “will be a reimbursement of those costs we incurred” during the pandemic, Tyne said.
There is hope that the economic damage will be limited. Nationally, 2.5 million went back to work in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While local unemployment statistics were not provided, revenues the city receives from sales tax help tell the story.
The “dip” wasn’t as steep as expected, and Peoria does not expect major long-term economic impacts from COVID-19.
“We haven’t seen a significant slow down in construction or development,” Granger said.