Brookfield lost millions in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The southeastern Wisconsin city expected $4.3 million in hotel room taxes in 2020, but received just $1.2 million. Based on pre-pandemic trends, the city budgeted $1 million in investment income revenue for 2020, but only collected about $570,000. And Brookfield Director of Finance Robert Scott said the city would be lucky to earn the budgeted $100,000 in investment income revenue for 2021.

But Brookfield is getting more than $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. It’s only about 10% of the city budget, but the funds will potentially prevent the city from cutting back regular fire and police services, Scott said.

Direct funding to local governments will have more impact for those areas than money through their respective counties, said Brookfield Mayor Steven Ponto. He co-authored a letter earlier this year with the U.S. Conference of Mayors asking Congress to distribute fiscal relief to small local governments.

“For those communities that are under 50,000, we’re getting a fairly straightforward amount based on population as opposed to communities that have metropolitan status,” Ponto said. He added that compared to county funding, “the direct money will have, I think, much more of an impact.”

Wisconsin counties are largely prioritizing business recovery, public health, housing and broadband expansion with their more than $1.1 billion in total ARPA funds, according to WisPolitics.com interviews with local government officials. Meanwhile, municipalities will receive just under $1.2 billion from the latest COVID-19 package with more than $394 million of that going to Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.

Wisconsin local governments serving populations under 50,000, including Brookfield, are receiving just under $411.6 million of what’s going to municipalities. Many are allocating their federal COVID-19 relief money to public works and infrastructure in an effort to recover from pandemic-driven hardship.

The state’s small local governments oversee populations ranging from 66 to nearly 40,000, creating significant differences in funding. Waukesha County’s New Berlin, Wisconsin’s largest municipality in the category, will receive almost $4.2 million while Rusk County’s Wilkinson, the state’s smallest, will receive just under $4,400 in total aid.

The town clerk of the 89-person town of Parrish said officials have yet to receive the municipality’s first half of its just over $9,300. But the clerk doubts it will make a momentous difference in its economic recovery.

The clerk added the local government will have to work with Langlade County on federal money. But when asked if county spending would impact Parrish, she had doubts.

“I highly doubt it, no,” she said. “We don’t have enough businesses in our area for them to help support us or require the help for support, so I would have to refer to them and see what they’re saying.”

But other small municipalities say their limited funds are significant and share priorities with larger municipalities in the small-government category.

Sawyer County’s Village of Couderay, an 88-person municipality, is getting just a fraction of Brookfield’s large sum, but has already spent the first half of its $9,000 in aid on fire department equipment for Radisson, a neighboring town with which Couderay contracts for emergency services. The village will likely spend its remaining funds on park improvements and projects to entice businesses to set up shop, said Village President Brian Schmuggerow.

He added that funds should be used as improvement money rather than for items that should be included in the budget, referring to other small municipalities planning to possibly use their ARPA dollars for voting machines.

Despite a nearly $3.8 million difference in funds, two other municipalities are planning to put their funds toward sewerage and other infrastructure.

Menomonee Falls will use its nearly $4 million in ARPA funds to replace several cast iron water pipes in the village that are at the end of their usable life and were constructed primarily in the 1950s, said Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald. He added that the municipality will also complete a regional stormwater control and detention project adjacent to the Menomonee River.

“The ability to move faster than our long-term capital improvement plans due to this funding is a significant benefit to our community,” Fitzgerald said.

Ashland County’s village of Butler, which has a population of 1,821, is getting just over $188,000 in aid. It’s about 4.7% of Menomonee Falls’ funds, but Butler Village Administrator Kayla Thorpe said the municipality is considering water and sewerage upgrades, fire department equipment purchases and village hall and library technology updates.

Rusk County’s town of Wilkinson, the municipality receiving the smallest sum, also is prioritizing infrastructure, noting that it is considering spending its nearly $4,400 in funds on roads.

Other small municipalities in rural counties are working to put their limited funds to use.

  • Cheryl Moore, the president of Catawba Village in Price County, said the municipality’s nearly $10,500 in funds will likely be used to offset some of the costs of installing broadband technologies, noting that there’s not much else for which the funds could be used. The 121-person village does not have any full-time staff.
  • The clerk for the towns of Kingston and Finley, which are in Juneau County, said Kingston’s just over $9,300 could go toward new roofing or a furnace for city hall and Finley’s just over $9,900 could fund a new city hall bathroom.
  • Pepin County’s village of Stockholm is considering using its just under $6,700 to purchase a new voting machine, but is hoping that county officials will allocate some of Pepin’s more than $1.4 million in ARPA money to fund Stockholm’s roads.
  • Patsy Gilligan, clerk for the town of Popple River in Forest County, also said her municipality is looking into using its $4,500 to purchase a new voting machine. However, she added the funds would likely not make a significant difference for the town’s budget.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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