DUNEDIN — Infrastructure, affordable housing, economic development, public safety and community services. City officials have plenty of ideas for use of about $18.3 million in funding through the the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

"It's a gift, to be sure. There's a lot we need to do," City Manager Jennifer Bramley said at the City Commission's meeting Sept. 2.

Commissioners didn't flinch when asked to approve a $361,000 contract for consulting services pertaining to compliance with the American Rescue Plan Act.

The contract is with Witt O'Brien's, which is based in Washington, D.C. The firm is also providing consulting services for the county regarding its share of the funding, which is about $189 million.

"We have timelines to get there, and if we don't have the expertise, we are going to lose valuable time and therefore lose our ability to do some of our projects," Commissioner Moe Freaney said.

"I think this is excellent to do. I think it's better that we will be working with the same vendor as the county has. I think that's a really strong basis of your credibility," Commissioner Deborah Kynes said.

The expertise is needed, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, because of all the questions that will be raised.

She said the consultants and Finance Director Les Tyler will become "fast-texting friends."

Under the act, the city must have spent or obligated its funding by Dec. 31, 2024. The deadline to complete the projects funded is Dec. 31, 2026.

The city received six proposals for consulting services by the July 20, 2021 submittal deadline. An evaluation committee ranked the Witt O'Brien's proposal the highest.

The contract will be used as needed based on the negotiated hourly rates, which are $75 to $200 per hour. The initial contract term is for three years.

The consulting firm is expected to help the city expedite financial recovery and mitigate efforts the through the American Rescue Plan.

The consultants will help try to limit any subsequent audits and reviews and minimize impacts from future disasters and determine the eligibility of projects for the city.

Bramley said she was relieved to have Witt O'Brien’s on board.

"And we can press the pedal down to move it forward to all you," she said.

Bramley said city officials want to reach out the community to get input on their priorities.

"I want to move really quickly on this because we are going to be competing for supplies, resources, people, all those sorts of things in the county," Bramley said.

The American Rescue Plan Act was enacted on March 11. The stimulus package, according to city memos, included $350 billion provided to state and local governments. For the first time, all municipal governments are entitled to a direct, non-competitive federal formula grant from the U.S. Treasury Department.