Like most localities, Orange City has no shortage of ideas for spending the latest round of federal stimulus funding.
Under the $2.2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last year, Orange City is receiving almost $6.2 million to offset revenues lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The city’s leaders have drawn up a list of projects, and public safety tops the list.
“We’ve been working on this for 20 years,” City Council Member Jeff Allebach said. “We need a goal, a vision. … I’m not ready to slow this thing down one bit.”
Orange City, according to its leaders, has an estimated $15 million in immediate capital needs, including new police and fire stations, along with an emergency-operations center, a new information-technology center and a public-works facility.
Also, the city is working to convert many homes and businesses from septic tanks to a municipal sewer system. The latest estimated cost of the septic-to-sewer conversion is approximately $25 million.
“The ARPA money has facilitated and given new life to those projects,” Orange City Finance Director Christine Davis said.
With help from Woodard & Curran, a Lakeland consulting firm, the City Council on March 8 reached a consensus in favor of making the public-safety facilities their top priority.
“You’ve had 20 years, and the facilities have continued to deteriorate,” Tami Ray-Ross, principal and finance director of Woodard & Curran, told the City Council.
But the new facilities will not come on a rush-and-build schedule. Rather, the city will commit about $2.9 million to plan and design the new structures.
The design of the public-safety complex alone, which will include the police department, the emergency-operations center and the information-technology-and-communications center, will cost an estimated $1.3 million.
Another $1.6 million will be applied toward design of the other less-urgent but still needed infrastructure, such as an emergency-response fire station, the public-works facility and the expansion of sewer service.
The city has already acquired land on East Ohio Avenue for the new public-safety complex. The design phase of the capital plan begins this spring, and it is scheduled to conclude by Oct. 1.
The City Council agreed to dedicate the other $3.3 million of ARPA funds for construction of the projects and “future obligations.” Officials know the $3.3 million will pay for only a fraction of actual construction of the multimillion-dollar master plan.
City Manager Dale Arrington told the council she does not know “where we’re going to find $15 million.”
Options, she said, may include a bond issue or a bank loan, either of which may mean the council would “go for a higher millage rate.”
“It’s very complicated, but we take one piece at a time,” Arrington said.
Repaying borrowed money may involve raising Orange City’s property-tax rate. Some area elected officials have suggested asking the county’s voters once again to approve a local-option sales tax. In Volusia County’s first-ever mail referendum in May 2019, a majority of voters rejected the proposal for a half-cent local sales tax.
Still other options may include state and/or federal grants for local governments. For example, city leaders have learned Orange City may apply for a $500,000 state grant for a new fire station.
“We need every penny,” Council Member Bill O’Connor said. “I want to know all the opportunities.”
O’Connor questioned the use of much of the ARPA funds for planning and design of several projects, rather than accelerating the construction of the critical public-safety facilities.
“Why are we spreading it [ARPA] so thin?” he asked. “What thought process went into spreading it over years?”
The answer, Council Member Bill Crippen said, was to increase Orange City’s chances of competing successfully for grant funding later.
“If you have a shovel-ready plan, that really ups your standing,” Crippen noted.
The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the draft plan for Orange City’s use of its share of ARPA funding.