This article has been updated.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asking about the status of federal coronavirus recovery funding for the county’s 26 suburban cities.
Wolff said in his letter, which was released Wednesday, that he was concerned to learn that the state of Texas has not received the federal funding and has not filed for a 30-day extension to disburse it. Each state has 30 days after receiving payment from the U.S. Treasury to distribute funding. Texas had not received the first half of its allocated $1.39 billion as of Monday, according to the Treasury.
The 26 suburban cities of Bexar County — such as Alamo Heights, Leon Valley, Balcones Heights, and China Grove — all qualify for that funding, but their leaders are so far unsure when to expect federal funding from ARPA.
“I’ve talked to the mayors; I meet with them every quarter,” Wolff said. “And not any of them have got their money.”
Renae Eze, press secretary for Abbott, said Wednesday that Wolff did not have the correct information.
“The State of Texas has already begun the process of contacting and collecting the required information from the nearly 1,200 local governments before certifying and applying to receive the federal funds into the state treasury,” Eze said in a prepared statement. “Per federal law, states are required to distribute funding to all eligible [local governments] within 30 days of receiving the funds into the state treasury.”
Texas plans to formally apply for the federal funding by Aug. 2, Eze said, and local governments can contact to the Texas Division of Emergency Management to start the “pre-application” process.
Bexar County municipalities don’t yet know how that federal funding can be used. Castle Hills Mayor JR Treviño hopes he can use ARPA funding to buy generators for the municipality after seeing the impact of the February winter storm on his residents. Treviño said the city was still hurting from the effects of the pandemic.
“We were hit just like everybody else,” he said. “I think what makes that a little bit more difficult for Castle Hills or any other small city is that we don’t have the diversity of revenue streams to recover. For example, in Castle Hills, we don’t have a lot of retail. So it kind of puts us in a difficult position.”
Each payment to a local government will be calculated based on population. Castle Hills, which is located in northern Bexar County, has nearly 4,500 residents. Von Ormy in southwestern Bexar County has more than 1,100 recorded by the Census Bureau in 2019, but City Clerk Janie De Anda contended that the number should be closer to 2,000.
Castle Hills received about $200,000 in federal funding from the first coronavirus relief bill, which was distributed by Bexar County and calculated based on its population, Treviño said. But Von Ormy missed a deadline for that federal funding last year and received nothing, De Anda said.
“We were really counting on it and we were hoping to get broadband sooner to our residents and unfortunately that didn’t happen,” she said. “We did do a lot of spending for [public health] purposes, but we were trying to reach out to the community and give them supplies [like PPE] but weren’t able to.”
Von Ormy and Castle Hills both generate much of their revenue from sales taxes and fees associated with either police fines or building permits. Von Ormy, a largely rural community, does not collect city property taxes. Though both cities’ revenue options are limited, Von Ormy has a much lower median household income than Castle Hills — $43,167 and $96,848 in 2019 respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That lower median income coupled with a lack of steady internet access made broadband internet infrastructure a high priority for Von Ormy, De Anda said. Buying a Wi-Fi hotspot was unaffordable for most Von Ormy residents, and while they were welcome to use the city’s Wi-Fi at municipal facilities, too many users would quickly overwhelm the internet capacity.
“A lot of residents had to go get hotspots for Wi-Fi [during the pandemic],” she said. “We had so many calls about getting internet services out here.”
The need for basic services such as internet access makes the ARPA funds necessary, De Anda said. Wolff said the same thing in his letter to Abbott on Tuesday.
“These funds are crucial as they assist in providing much needed funding for lost revenue, supporting economic stabilization for Texas residents and businesses, and addresses public health and economic challenges,” Wolff wrote.
This article has been updated to correct that Von Ormy does not collect city property taxes.