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W.Va. getting its share from new relief bill

Municipalities as big as Charleston and as small as Capon Bridge — along with all 55 West Virginia counties — will receive a cut of the $4 billion in direct funding that the American Rescue Plan is sending to the Mountain State. It’s a dollar figure that Sen. Joe Manchin believes will be a financial shot in the arm to every corner of West Virginia.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, and President Joe Biden signed it Thursday. Manchin discussed the funds coming to West Virginia with dozens of county and municipal leaders Wednesday evening via video conference.

Billions of dollars are coming to West Virginia in a number of ways. On top of the $1,400 stimulus checks for most in the state and child tax credits, $800 million is going to PreK-12 education, $152 million is going to emergency rental assistance and $138 million is going to broadband funding, along with other allocations.

Not only does the state government get $1.25 billion in direct funding, county and municipal governments get a total of $677 million. Counties get $348 million and larger cities get $176 million straight from the United States Treasury. Smaller cities and towns get $153 million through the state treasury, and that must pass through to those municipalities within 30 days.

That money to state and local governments can be used to cover expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, lost revenue related to the pandemic and necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Manchin said the funding will come in two installments, half this year and half next year. He told the local government leaders on the video conference that these funds are a huge opportunity to make improvements they normally wouldn’t be able to make.

“Now it’s a matter for you all to show the prudence of how you’re going to make the decisions of how you’re going to use this money,” he said. “I would recommend to every county commissioner to get all of your people together, start looking at the projects that have been burning a hole that you could not fill and it’s something that people desired. I would tell every municipality to get with all of your councilpeople to sit down and start planning.”

Manchin also suggested that the different local governments team up, as well as work with the state, to go even bigger on projects that could benefit their communities.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, gang,” Manchin said. “There’s a lot of work that can be done. … If you coordinate with your county and you coordinate with the state, I don’t think there’s a project that any of you all can’t complete or make an upgrade or make improvements on, no matter where you may be.”

Counties and municipalities large and small are getting a piece of the pie based on the size of those communities. For instance, Wheeling will receive $29.51 million, while Parkersburg gets $22.45 million, Weirton will receive $10.59 million and Martinsburg gets $8.92 million. Meanwhile, Triadelphia gets $320,000, while Harpers Ferry gets $120,000 and North Hills gets $320,000.

What the local leaders were looking for Wednesday evening was clear direction on where their cut of the money can be spent. Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer wanted to make sure he stayed within the rules in terms of spending the $800,000 his town received.

“It would be helpful to have the criteria on how to utilize this money, so we don’t overstep,” he said. “Giving us the parameters for the use of this money would be helpful.”

Manchin told Auxer not to worry, and that he and any other local leader could call his office for guidance. He did say state, county and municipal governments can’t use the money to replenish pension plans or rainy-day funds, nor can they cut tax revenues and use that money to backfill the budget. The last thing Manchin wanted was for any community to get in hot water over those funds.

“We’re going to be very careful to make sure you don’t get caught in an audit,” he said. “They’re going to be doing random audits to make sure the money is being spent properly. We want to make sure we have the clarification from the Treasury Department.”

Manchin reiterated to those on the call that this opportunity is one that these local governments have never before enjoyed, and he called upon them to take advantage of it and make the most of it.

“Gang,” Manchin said, “if we can’t get our house in order with this, I don’t know when we’ll ever do it.”

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