Lenoir City Council approved the distribution of $1.45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for local projects impacting tourism and downtown business promotion and bonuses for city employees.
Lenoir City received $2.76 million from the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which was created by the state to allocate federal money distributed under ARPA.
The total estimated cost of the 10 projects selected for funding this year is about $1.45 million. The remaining $1.3 million will be distributed next year.
Determining how the money would be distributed involved numerous meetings between the Purchasing Committee, office of the mayor and city manager. Final decisions had to await updated guidance from the state and federal government.
“I feel we made good use of the money that was allocated to us,” City Manager Amber Scott Kelso said.
She said those involved in the decisions attended classes on the permitted use of funds and collected information from numerous organizations. A report was prepared detailing the purpose and cost of each project.
The largest single line item on the list of approved projects was $350,000 for Economic Impact to Downtown. According to the description of the project, the Historic Downtown Merchants Association has plans to create an outdoor venue to attract people downtown.
Kelso said the proposed venue would be located off Broadway across from the intersection with A Street. The venue would include a portable stage, lighting, sound and electrical sufficient to support regular entertainment events. The entrance to the area might include an archway.
Loudon County Chamber of Commerce President Rodney Grugin said the project has been discussed as a great place to hold events.
Loudon County Visitors Bureau, which is also under the chamber, has been allocated $250,000 to extend a trail system into an unused area of Lenoir City Park that includes a pond. The system would be a part of the Lakeway to the Smokies visitor area of the city.
Grugin said the city has been cleaning up the area around the pond in preparation for extending the trails that would be used both visitors and local residents.
“Anything that brings people to Loudon County is a good thing,” he said. “We need to encourage more outdoor activity.”
A project to purchase five COVID-19 mitigation response vehicles has been allocated $250,000. The vehicles would be outfitted with hazmat suits, fresh air filtration, plastic seat covers and a sealed partition.
The vehicles would be designated sterile for use in transporting detainees or patients with COVID-19. “The new vehicles will reduce the spread of viruses and aid in any pandemic to protect the safety of all individuals,” according to the report.
Kelso said the idea is to be better prepared should another pandemic arise.
“When this happened during the pandemic we really had no way of dealing with it safely if we had to transport a prisoner that had COVID,” she said.
The removal of trees from Rock Springs Creek at an estimated cost of $140,000 was also approved. Trees that fell have been disturbing the flow of the creek and resulting in flood damage to infrastructure and a negative impact on water quality.
A total of $433,500 has been allocated to provide payments to city workers at all levels. City workers did a great job keeping all services working during the pandemic, Kelso said.
“We never shut down city offices,” she said. “We actually increased services.”
The payments include $76,000 to provide $500 each to Lenoir City Utility Board employees, $5,000 to provide $1,000 each to employees of the Lenoir City Housing Authority, $128,000 for $500 each to employees of Lenoir City Schools, $217,000 to provide $2,500 each to full-time city workers and $7,500 to provide $500 each to part-time city workers.
Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said she was pleased the efforts of school employees were to be recognized.
“All of our teachers worked very hard during COVID,” she said.
The Loudon County Boys & Girls Club, Loudon County Habitat for Humanity, Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County and the Lenoir City Panther Foundation will receive a total of $30,000.
“Due to the lack of resources, many nonprofits were not able to maintain stability directly to the number of people meeting services, which outweighs a large reduction in donations during the pandemic,” the city report said.
Kelso said next year’s disbursement might be completely different in terms of the kind of projects funded.
Councilman Eddie Simpson, who is retiring as county road superintendent, said he hoped there might be money for city roads included in next year’s allocation of funds. Lenoir City Road Supervisor J.J. Cox said city roads have not received any federal grants since the “shovel ready” projects funded during the administration of President Obama.