New Bern officials ponder best way to spend $6.7 million

City’s share of American Rescue Plan monies will likely go toward infrastructure 

NEW BERN – Two intensive hours late Tuesday afternoon went darn fast for the seven-member Board of Alderman, as department heads and other employees – who oversee a host of future projects – made their pitches for at least a share of Covid-19 relief funding. 

The town’s newest department head is Kimberly Ostrom, Director of Finance. She did well in her first official appearance, using a Power Point presentation to explain the intricacies of federal funding, which is being divvied out to thousands of county and local governments throughout the U.S. 

For example: 1) In May of 2021, half of the $6.7 million arrived – safely squirreled away in an interest-bearing account. 2) The other half is scheduled to arrive sometime in May of 2022. 3) All of the funds must be assigned or ‘obligated’ for an official purpose by Dec. 31, 2024. 4) All of the funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026. 

The seven elected officials understood the timelines, and even better, all of the board agreed that New Bern’s infrastructure spending can easily dispense with almost $7 million over the next four years!

Though no firm decisions were made, department heads laid out three broad areas of much-needed infrastructure spending: Electricity distribution; water and sewer construction; and, drainage. 

Alderman Bobby Aster lobbied hard for capital expenditures to enhance the city’s ability to deliver huge amounts of electricity, pointing to the recent ice storm and bone-chilling temperatures. Addressing a question to Charles Bauschard, Director of Public Utilities, Aster asked: “Didn’t we come real close to our current maximum capacity of 125 megawatts  during the storm, and shouldn’t we be looking at building at least one new sub-station? I live in Taberna and we get our power from what is known as the ‘New Bern feeder’ but I believe, if necessary, Charlie has set it up so that the area can be back-fed thru the Lewis Farm feeder.” 

Bauschard emphatically agreed. And, it looked for awhile like New Bern’s electricity grid would be a superb way of spending Uncle Sam’s largess – especially so when Mayor Dana Outlaw added “we don’t need any brownouts – just keep in mind that I said ‘brownouts!’ I sure didn’t say ‘blackouts!’”

“I suggest that we need to move on this project to add to our electrical capacity,” urged Aster

Alderman Jeffrey Odham correctly pointed out that the city has wide latitude in how the rescue money can be spent. Only when receipts from the federal government come in at more than $10 million do a host of attached strings come into play. “We can pretty much do anything we want to do (with the funds) as long as it is a function of city government,” said Odham. 

True!  But a close reading of one slide revealed a strict admonishment: “No spending is permitted which undermines or discourages compliance with CDC guidelines.” Oh well – so much for Free Speech. 

By the end of the spending workshop, one PowerPoint slide had lingered longer than any other, with Staff Engineer George Chiles doing the explaining. Alderwomen Barbara Best and Jamee Harris pushed hard for tip-of-the-iceberg spending in the amount of $2 million described in Chiles’ broad outline of much-needed DRAINAGE PROJECTS. 

See the slide included with this report. 

Nothing is yet written in stone. However, memories of rampant flooding during Hurricane Florence remain fresh. Look for that $2 million slice as the very first bite to be extracted from the $6.7 million federal pie! 

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan, Pub L. No. 117-2, is a US$1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th United States 

American Rescue Plan power point 012422