How Wausau spent $5 million of its ARPA funds
WAUSAU — Wausau spent about a third of the $15 million it received from the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 on big-ticket items like replacing LED streetlights, updating a skate park and the resolution of high levels of “forever chemicals” in the city’s drinking water wells.
Wausau city leaders learned in the spring of 2021 that the city would receive $15 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The city has until 2024 to allocate the funds and until 2026 to spend them. The money can be spent to respond to the pandemic or its negative economic impact, to help essential workers, to improve city infrastructure, and to help reduce government revenue due to COVID-19.
“ARPA funding gives us the ability to review and fund a wide variety of projects,” said city council member Michael Martens, vice-chair of the finance committee that helps decide how to allocate the money. .
Martens said he wants ARPA-funded initiatives to be “transformative” and said the city council is trying to spend ARPA money in a way that benefits the most people.
The council is aware of the amount it is spending, knowing that it plans to use ARPA money to address high levels of PFAS found in the city’s six drinking water wells in January. There’s no set amount yet, but Martens estimates the city may need to use about $7 million to remove PFAS from the water supply.
The finance committee also sent several housing initiatives to city council for a vote in September. This includes using $1.1 million to build homes for low-to-middle income people, $1 million to build apartments for low-income people, and $34,000 to educate homebuyers and help cover closing costs.
Here are the ways the city has already allocated its ARPA funds, listed from most expensive to least expensive projects:
► Conversion of public lighting to LED: $881,971. Wausau will replace the bulbs of all streetlights in the city with LED lamps. Currently, the city uses high-intensity discharge bulbs, which are less energy efficient. According to city documents, switching to LED lights will cut operating costs in half.
► Replacement of financial enterprise resource planning software: $850,000. This will help cover the costs of a new financial management software package to facilitate day-to-day business activities. Martens said the city had been using the same financial management software package since 1992 and had been outdated for several years. Wausau and Marathon County team up to update their software. If the city used its budget to fully pay for this, it would have used most of its capital funding budget, which is used to improve infrastructure such as roads and parks.
► Wastewater filtering improvement project: $800,000. The ARPA funding will be used to improve the wastewater filtering and the wastewater treatment center building. The current Wausau Wastewater Treatment Center is being upgraded and did not have enough money for this specific upgrade. The screens will be used to remove large debris that would clog the pipes if not removed.
►Abel Stormwaterlift station: $800,000. The Stormwater Lift Station, located near the Two Hearts Dog Park, lifts water from the bottom of the ground to the top. It is in “poor physical condition” and needs repairs, such as the installation of new pumps. Without these improvements, the elevator could break down and the area would be flooded.
► Three new firefighting positions: $771,000. This will help fund three new firefighter positions in the Wausau Fire Department in 2022. ARPA will help pay $100,000 in salary and benefits for each of the firefighters along with their equipment through 2024. The department Fire Department, which has 65 members, including new positions, has not seen an increase in staff since 1970 despite the number of calls received which tripled during that time. They are looking to add 12 more total firefighters to the department. The fire department is recruiting.
► Flagship project: $350,000. Gorman & Co. is renovating Landmark Apartments to provide more affordable housing in Wausau. In total, it’s a $20 million project, including $350,000 from ARPA. Gorman and Co. will install new carpets, air conditioning and ventilation units among other upgrades and lower the total number of units from 109 to 94.
► Skatepark renovation: $225,000. This will be used to repave and update equipment at the Oak Island skate park in Wausau. The skate park was built in 2002 and has undergone several repairs over the past two decades, but needs to be repaved and repaired in order to keep the park safe.
► PFAS pilot study: $240,375. This study will test different ways to get rid of PFAS from city wells, including Granulated Activated Carbon, Tulsion A-72 MP Thermax Resin Ion Exchange, and Tulsion A-72 Resin Ion Exchange PM. The new processing facility will use granulated carbon and ion exchange methods.
► Temporary water supply: $230,000. This was to distribute water in Wausau after PFAS was found in the city’s wells. This included water bottles and filter pitchers for use that the city distributed in the spring.
► Community Partners Campus Facilities Project: $162,756. The Community Partners on-campus facilities project will house up to 15 local non-profit organizations. They received almost all of their funding but needed a few extra dollars to complete development. The project began in April and is expected to be completed in October.
►City-County Information TechnologyCommission– fiber connection project: $140,000. By installing a fiber optic internet connection, this project will bring a stronger and more sustainable internet connection to several buildings, including Metro Ride Headquarters, the Wausau Police and Fire Building, and the Community Development Building.
► Community Outreach Specialist position: $140,000. This position was created within the Wausau Police Department to provide outreach services to homeless individuals in Wausau. This person would regularly meet and work with homeless people and city officials to determine how best to help them. ARPA money will be used to create and help fund this position until 2025, when the salary will be budgeted. Through 2025, ARPA will only pay a portion of the position’s salary, with the city allocating money for the remainder. Depending on the person hired, the position could bring between $48,000 and $67,000 per year.
► Negative economic impact of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Education: $84,100. The Entrepreneurship and Education Center, 100 N. 72nd Ave., is a nonprofit organization that began in 1987. New or existing businesses can rent office space and work with other professionals for help grow their business. During the pandemic, the EEC lost a lot of revenue and several companies terminated their leases. The EEC will use the ARPA funding to help recoup its losses, modernize the building, and create new marketing strategies.
► Main switch replacement: $50,000. It’s about upgrading the tech switches in the city. The network switch shares data between multiple devices and should be replaced or updated every two years.
► Public access server for captioning: $49,224. This will be for a captioning server for public television and YouTube in Wausau. It will provide real-time closed captioning for town meetings streamed on TV and YouTube.
► Internet firewall replacement: $33,800. The city’s internet needed better protection, so the council decided to use ARPA money to upgrade the firewall to prevent hacking of the website, servers, and city online services.