Orange County cities are ramping up their spending of COVID relief money this week as at least two in South Orange County look at how they will reinvest millions of tax dollars in their communities. 

The money is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, one of several measures passed by Congress giving money back to municipal governments to assist local recovery from the pandemic.

San Clemente and Lake Forest will discuss during their next meetings where that pot of money is going, with over $20 million to be used between the two cities.

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Lake Forest City Council members will allocate nearly $13 million of taxpayer money on Tuesday night, approving a spending plan for almost all the city’s coronavirus relief funds. 

The plan prepared by staff will put just over half the money toward helping local businesses including hotels, restaurants and some small merchants. Just under 40% will go toward restoring the city staff to its full size, after 10% of full-time staff and 90% of its part-time workers were furloughed due to the pandemic.

The remaining $1.2 million is dedicated to administrative costs incurred from the program. 

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The San Clemente City Council is set to budget $7.4 million of its relief dollars, and is putting most of its money toward delayed projects. The Steed Park lighting project is expected to receive $1.5 million, and the city’s aquatics center pool is set to be replastered at a cost of $1.1 million according to a city staff report. 

Plans call for an additional $2 million to be spent toward designing and building new City Council chambers, as the council’s current chambers were abandoned at the start of the pandemic due to social distancing restrictions. 

The rest of the funds are expected to be dispersed in smaller amounts, with the city hanging onto $680,000 to cover its own COVID incurred costs, including personal protective equipment for city staff and re-hiring for three positions that were laid off in the early days of the pandemic.

The rest of the money is planned for grants and assistance to social services and businesses. The proposal holds back an additional $1.6 million earmarked for future spending. 

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The discussion about how municipalities are spending the money has raged for months, with taxpayers calling for more transparency following over $200 million in secretly-approved contracts by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. 

Andrew Do, the board’s chair, then complained about reporters asking too many questions on where the money was going after the contracts’ existence became public. 

[Read: Taxpayer Groups Demand Transparency On How OC Spends Hundreds Of Millions In COVID Money]

Most cities in Orange County have not decided what they are doing with their new relief money yet. Santa Ana was one of the first to announce a plan, investing over $64 million into its Revive Santa Ana program. 

The money went to projects including emergency rental and housing assistance, upgrades to the city’s infrastructure and a study looking at establishing a separate health department for the city. To review the full list of approved projects, click here

Both city councils meet on Tuesday night, with San Clemente’s meeting starting at 6 and Lake Forest’s beginning at 6:30. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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