Provo City Council reallocates CARES act funds in split vote

The Provo City Council discussed the best ways to reallocate over $7 million from the federal CARES Act in its meeting on Feb. 16. Two of the proposed items have been continued to the next City Council meeting on March 2. (Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo)

The Provo City Council met virtually on Feb. 16 to discuss the reallocation of over $7 million from the city’s general fund into various capital improvement funds to make the money available for local projects including a fire station, grocery store, park and airport terminal. 

This influx of $7,879,285 came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which “provides for payments to state, local and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This act has allowed state and local governments to continue in their work despite the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The following five purposes for the money were proposed at the meeting by the mayor’s office:

  1. $10,000 appropriated in the mayor’s office and the general fund to complete some earlier projects that were started that haven’t been finished
  2. $3.5 million in the new Legacy Capital Improvement Plan Fund for a new fire station in a new location
  3. $400,000 in that same Legacy Capital Improvement Plan Fund for some airport terminal changes
  4. $1 million in the Economic Development Fund to be used to attract a westside grocery retailer
  5. $1 million in the Parks Capital Improvement Plan fund for Canyon Road Park.

In choosing the projects, Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Parker said the city were “looking for unfunded critical capital needs that we just didn’t have another answer for yet.”

With such a large amount of money on the table, several council members expressed concerns for the usage of the money, particularly the money going toward the grocery store and the park items in the list.

“I don’t have a great justification for my constituents as to why we’re spending this money this way,” Councilwoman Shannon Ellsworth said. “I do see that (the proposed projects) advance other projects that are further down the line. But people are going to ask why weren’t those other projects prioritized. So I feel like there’s still homework to be done.”

“If any council member felt like we should review the process, I think we should,” Vice Chairman Dave Shipley said. “It’s a big enough amount of money and it’s a big enough opportunity that I think taking a step back and going through our process a little bit would be good.”

The council discussed the option of moving forward with the money for the mayor’s projects, the new fire station and the airport as planned, with the option to allocate some money to the grocery store market and infrastructure research, but not all were in agreement. 

“It’s a process issue at this point, and I think it’s a dangerous precedent with this amount of money to not get questions answered. I think it would be fair to say that we could set this for two weeks out to get questions answered and make sure that we can unanimously move forward with such a large amount and such a big decision,” Shipley said. 

The council voted 4-3, with George Handley, Ellsworth and Shipley opposed. The amended resolution passed with the following changes:

  1. The amount appropriated to the Economic Development Capital Improvement Plan Fund was changed from $1,000,000 to $100,000, and the funds will be used to “develop or contract for the data tools to attract a west side grocery retailer”
  2. Removal of the $1,000,000 appropriated to the Parks Capital Improvement Plan Fund
  3. An agreement to continue the above-stated issues in city council meeting on March 2.
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