How Cities are Tapping Federal Aid to Make Major Tech Upgrades

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, you couldn’t pay a parking ticket remotely or order a development permit online from the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“That’s how antiquated some of our systems were,” said Renee Smith, the city’s grants manager. 

Officials had for years talked about investing in technology, but those costly upgrades were always “that thing in the budget that got passed over from year to year,” winding up in the “‘maybe someday’ category,’’ she said.

For Cheyenne, someday is now. The city, like hundreds of other communities across the nation, is investing a portion of its federal pandemic relief money in technological improvements to make local government more accessible and efficient.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Biden last year, doles out $350 billion in direct aid to states, counties, tribal governments  and municipalities. The money was intended to help communities rebound from the economic harm caused by the pandemic, though the rules governing the use of the funds, set by the U.S. Department of Treasury, are fairly broad. 

With relatively few restrictions, state and local governments have used the cash to bolster local businesses, offset budget shortfalls brought on by the pandemic and pay for pet projects. Governments have until the end of 2026 to spend the money.

Upgrading online government services and access to remote meetings are part of a larger move to invest ARPA funds in technology.  

For some localities, that means investing in broadband infrastructure at local schools and libraries; others are spending on hardware to allow city employees to work remotely. And some communities are using ARPA dollars to strengthen their ability to withstand cyberattacks.

In Clintonville, Wisconsin, officials are allocating ARPA funds to enhance their ability to provide remote access to government meetings. 

In the early days of the pandemic, the town government in Clintonville, like local governments everywhere,…

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