What Happened to Those American Rescue Plan Dollars?

City Skyline, Knoxville, April 2020
Knoxville Skyline, June 2022

The city of Knoxville, like all American cities, spends a lot of money on a very wide range of items. While the largest expenditures are salaries for everyone from the mayor to the police force and garbage collectors, a wide range of concrete items take a significant amount of money, as well. Sidewalks, roads, bike paths, and city buses keep the city moving, for example. In the mix of funding to pay for these salaries and projects is a range of tax revenue, from local, to state, and often large amounts of federal funding.

While we quickly think of local taxes, like property taxes, as a source of revenue, we don’t always think of something as remote as federal funding. It turns out that many of the city’s expenditures through the course of a year are federally funded. For example, just this year, KAT received a $3.64 million grant for “overhead electric charging infrastructure.” In 2021, $4.8 million in federal funding supported the introduction of electric buses to Knoxville’s fleet. Federal funding supports any number of endeavors in the city in a given year.

In 2021, as the country struggled to emerge from the many issues, economic and otherwise, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan Act to the tune of $1.9 trillion. Republicans, none of whom voted for the legislation, argued it was extreme (they proposed $600 billion), and wasn’t adequately targeted on the nation’s health and economic crisis. They’ve since blamed the government outlay for being an inflationary force over the last two years.

But it passed. So whether you primarily view it as helping us avoid a recession (which we have, so far) or inflationary (which we have experienced, related or not), or some of both, the money has moved through the country, into states, cities, and counties over the last two years. The city of Knoxville received $62.5 million and just yesterday released an accounting of some of the expenditures it has made and continues to fund. Large categories of expenditure include public safety, water quality, and street paving.

Mayor Kincannon expressed gratitude for the funding, saying, “These important projects need to get done, but they’re so expensive, Knoxville could not have done this alone. The game-changing effects of ARPA will be felt for generations to come.”

So, what are some specific examples of your federal taxes via the ARPA at work locally?

Just last week a water-quality study was authorized, directed at addressing flooding in Chilhowee Park. It’s the latest of about forty projects funded by the ARPA and it will not only look at flooding in the park, but on nearby Prosser Road and Rutledge Pike. The area has flooded for decades thanks in part to a series of “underground caverns and sinkholes.” $210,858 will go to Geosyntec Consultants with the goal of determining mitigation options by next year. Similar projects, also funded by ARPA, are underway at Bluegrass Lake (in partnership with Knox County); Cherry Street; Baum and Erin drives; Mary Vestal Park; Rock City Ballfield; and Holston River Park.

But that’s just the latest, (relatively) small example of how the funding is helping locally. Some of the other major expenditures include (or included):

  • “Hero pay” for first responders during the pandemic – $2.15 million
  • Funds to help renovate the closed St. Mary’s Hospital into the new Public Safety Complex, and to purchase adjacent property for an urgent care and behavioral health facility – $3.4 million
  • Street paving – $7.3 million
  • Jackson Avenue and other sidewalk improvements – $1.9 million
  • Support for Community Action Committee programs – $2 million
  • Grants to United Way non-profits – $1 million
  • Grants to support local artists and non-profits, administered by the Art and Culture Alliance – $1.3 million

You’ll find additional information on how Knoxville has utilized the federal funding received as a result of the act.