There is new federal funding called the American Rescue Plan that passed by the Biden administration that will help cities, counties, villages, towns and states all around the country.  I consider this funding as a once-in-a-lifetime funding.

As of 2020, the city of Wausau has a population of 37,000, so the city of Wausau is categorized by the feds as a community with less than 50,000 residents. Recent federal funding under the Biden administration has allocated roughly $15 million dollars to the city of Wausau. According to the finance director, the first check for $6-7 million dollars was recently received.  

The American Rescue Plan allowable uses include:

‘‘(A) to respond to the public health emergency with respect to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality; 

  • Revenue replacement for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, relative to revenues collected in the most recent fiscal year prior to the emergency,
  • Premium pay for essential workers,
  • Investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

In Marathon County, I would expect there would be a focus on getting broadband to areas of the county without this service or very slow options. With TDS working around the Wausau area, the city of Wausau does not need to invest in broadband since TDS is doing that on their own. I would also expect Marathon County to focus on health and other issues, too, with their federal funding.

IMHO, the city of Wausau has not lost much in revenue during the COVID pandemic except for reducing liquor licenses revenues due to a number of bars and businesses that were closed during the pandemic. In the weeks and months to come, a reduction of city revenues will be discussed by the finance committee (which I am a member), as well as with the City Council.

I do NOT think the city of Wausau will be pursuing premium pay options for city employees in my opinion.

I DO see that the city of Wausau could invest the federal funding into the water and sewer lines throughout the city that are aging; some water and sewer lines are over 100 years old. A few blocks of old sewer lines on Seventh Avenue near my home were cleaned, and a new plastic lining was installed inside the pipes without tearing up the roads. Neighbors were inconvenienced for a few hours while the work was done. Here is a video of a similar sewer lining project:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHv4HEo0dt0. I could see millions of dollars allocated to fixing sewer lines with this new plastic lining inserted into the old sewer lines throughout our neighborhoods. 

In regards to water pipes, there are over 9,000 estimated lead lateral lines around Wausau in about 50 percent of Wausau homes or businesses. Normally, the lead lateral line (which is from the city shutoff at the boulevard to inside a home or business to the inside water shutoff) is the financial responsibility of the homeowner(s) or business. With the current lead water lateral grant funding, we are funded to replace 100 lead laterals in 2021. The Wausau Water Commission was recently informed to replace 100 lead laterals per year, it would take 90 years in order to replace all lead laterals in the city. More detailed discussion is available in reading the Water Commission meetings minutes or in watching their YouTube meetings videos.

More info about lead lateral replacement as done in Milwaukee:  

Part of the issue with the lead lateral upgrades is that the city of Wausau should have the street lead water lines replaced FIRST before replacing the homeowners side. Each year, only a few city streets are torn up to replace old water and sewer lines since the old lead water mains and lines must be removed as part of road construction and digging down over 6 feet or more in the street. 

In the last few years, the city of Wausau has been receiving federal funding that comes to the state and allocated to the city for assisting homeowners in upgrading and getting lead laterals out of homeowners’ homes. In 2021, the city of Wausau has funding of $350,000 for the replacement of 100 lead laterals. Most lead water laterals are easier to replace during the street construction. When the city upgrades roads, the city will take out the old lead water lines in the street as well as the old sewer lines; WPS, Charter may also do upgrading in the street when the road is dug up over 6 feet deep or more as once in a lifetime replacement of these utilities.

A number of streets where the lead water mains and lines have been redone in the past decade or more: First Avenue, Second Avenue, Stewart to Elm Street; Third Avenue; Elm Street, Bridge Street; Stewart Avenue; Kent Street; Thomas Street; Cedar Street; Callon Street; 12th Avenue; Kickbush and others streets  around the city.  All of these streets had the lead water lines in the street right of way removed and new non-lead water pipes put in. The city of Wausau suggested that homeowners replace the lead laterals but very few homeowners did (due to paying already for special assessments on their portion of the street and not having spare thousands of dollars to pay for the lead lateral replacement on their own).  

There are talks that there might be a large infrastructure funding, too, that hopefully would address roads and more but that has not yet been determined by Congress and the Biden administration.

The ARP federal funding projects must be committed by December 2024. Any unspent dollars will need to be returned to the U.S. Treasury; I am not expecting the city will return any funds since we should be using these federal funds or the city will have to pay years or decades later with debt or tax levy increases. The finance committee, as well as the city council and city staff, will be making recommendations over the months and years to come on how to use the American Rescue Plan funds.  

The new water and sewer plants construction projects funding came from bonds issued. The city of Wausau has only been dealing annually with city and sewer mains and lines in the streets on a piece meal basis. This federal funding could help with these local street upgrades on a small scale but replacing all of the old streets will take possibly $100 million or more to improve all the city streets.

The city of Wausau staff, water commission and alderpersons are seeking more guidance on how the federal funds can be spent, as well as input from our residents on what our priorities should be. I would encourage residents to give input on the priorities you recommend on these federal dollars via public comments at City Council or contacting your alderperson. 

Debra Ryan of Wauau, Wausau City Council member, District 11

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