Cobb cities see federal aid payments slashed

·3 min read

Jun. 3—When President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law in March, Cobb's cities looked as if they would be flush with cash, receiving tens of millions in direct federal aid. The only question was how they planned to spend it.

This week, however, cities saw those amounts slashed following the release of updated figures from the Treasury Department.

Smyrna appears to be the county's biggest loser in the new calculations, seeing its aid amount slashed by over half from $17.85 million to just under $8 million. Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said the revision stemmed from a misclassification of the city in the original federal projections.

"In general, the initial conversations have centered around shoring up our budget, plugging the holes that were created by COVID," Norton said of how Smyrna might use the remaining funds. "And then aid to businesses and citizens who suffered because of the pandemic. Obviously, it's going to be scaled back ... but I don't think the general approach has changed."

Norton's comments came just hours after he said he signed the paperwork to accept the first payment. The city will receive half of the cash up front, and the other half in 24 months.

"I tell everybody, look — it's unfortunate that the original estimate was $10 million more than we're actually going to get, but we're still going to get almost $8 million more than we had before."

While the revised figures were disappointing, Councilman Charles Welch said, the changes will not be catastrophic.

"I think it was an honest mistake," Welch said. "Whatever we do with it has really not been determined at this point ... I would prefer to put some of it into our reserve account ... and save it for a rainy day."

Ward 2 Councilman Austin Wagner said he wants the council to "evaluate as many ways as we can get it directly into the hands of people that need it," especially on programs like rental and utility assistance.

"Until we've gotten that finalized number," Wagner added, "no one wanted to go too far down the path of how we're going to spend it, and then spend it before we got it. I think given the situation, that was probably the best choice."

Marietta will take a smaller hit to its payment, receiving $11.18 million instead of the originally projected $13.45 million. Marietta spokesperson Lindsey Wiles said the city is compiling lists of potential spending projects to present to the City Council, which she expects will happen within the next 60 days once Marietta receives finalized guidance from the Treasury Department.

Wiles did not specify what projects Marietta is considering, saying only that the city has several lists prepared depending on how the Treasury Department allows them to spend the funds.

Cities will be able to use the aid on many of the same items as the 2020 CARES Act, including COVID 19-related expenses and pay for public safety workers. They can also offer small business, rental and utility assistance. And, in a new provision for the 2021 bill, they can invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. City officials are still awaiting more detailed instructions from the federal government on allowable expenses.

Cobb's cities of less than 50,000 residents — Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw and Powder Springs — were set to receive aid in amounts ranging from $2.26 million to $10.74 million. Now, instead of direct payments from the federal governments, the Treasury will send the funds en masse to the state government. Georgia will then be responsible for doling out the payments to each city based on their population, receiving a total of $861.8 million in aid for those smaller cities.

The Treasury has yet to publish revised figures for those smaller cities. Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling said he planned to hold meetings this week exploring what options the city might pursue for its aid allocation.

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