“ Yes, look at shoring up budgets, but more than that, think about how we can improve the human experience here in Michigan. ” DAN GILMARTIN MICHIGAN MUNICIPAL LEAGUE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & CEO DAN GILMARTIN

But spending a large amount of unexpected money has its own challenges. Municipalities should go slow and think strategically in developing spending priorities that will provide the best-long term return on investment and receive broad community support, Dempsey said. “It is a lot to navigate especially for small communities with no staff,” he said. “There are real challenges.” Dempsey and others also said communities should collaborate, pooling their ARP money to produce stronger regional outcomes. Gilmartin said at a recent Michigan State University seminar that Flint and surrounding communities could combine their federal rescue dollars to leverage as much as $400 million for a variety of quality-of-life investments in a region hard hit by the devastating loss of auto industry jobs. The idea of vibrant, attractive communities “shouldn’t stop at municipal lines,” he said. But acting regionally isn’t easy in a state with more than 1,800 strong local units of government, all protecting their own turf. “The idea of working with other governments doesn’t come naturally,” Lupher said. Future Considerations Once local governments put spending plans in place, they likely will scramble to find enough workers to carry them out, both internally and externally. Many municipalities already are coping with bare-bones staffs in their building and engineering departments. And contractors that build water, sewer, and other infrastructure projects face a shortage of skilled labor. “Suppose that all of the 1,800 units of government decide to fix their water and sewer systems,” Lupher said. “There’s just not enough contractors to take on that work in a two-to-three-year timeframe.” Communities should be wary of using the ARP funds to build community centers and other capital projects that require staffing and maintenance that they might not be able to afford in the future. “It’s like the curse of the lottery where you end up bankrupt because you incurred a lot of expenditures you couldn’t afford,” said Eric Scorsone, an MSU local government finance expert. “If (ARP funds) are used poorly or not used at all, we will have a lot of communities in serious trouble.” Michigan municipalities have been financially strapped for so long, Gilmartin said he’s worried that some won’t think expansively in spending the windfall of federal money, or

maybe even reject funding. “We’ve been dealing from a position of scarcity in this state throughout our entire lives,” he said. “Folks are almost afraid to get out there and think big again.” But the ARP grants provide a rare opportunity for Michigan communities to improve livability, become more attractive to new residents, and make badly needed investments. “Yes, look at shoring up budgets, but more than that, think about howwe can improve the human experience here in Michigan,” Gilmartin said. “I hope a lot of us do that.”

Rick Haglund is a freelance writer. You may contact him at 248.761.4594 or

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