#MACoCon Recap: Dollars and Sense — Budgeting in a Post-COVID World

A panel of state and local fiscal leaders shared best practices for navigating an influx of federal recovery funds and tips for building resiliency for uncertain times ahead.

From setting both short- and long-term priorities, to building infrastructure, to developing and sustaining projects, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) presents an unprecedented opportunity for Maryland’s 24 counties to strengthen their communities.

As counties determine how to invest ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to foster a swift and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, they face the risk that spending will increase to levels that will prove impossible to sustain once the federal relief expires at the end of 2024. As such, understanding how investments today will create (or avoid) ongoing costs tomorrow is key to avoiding unexpected liabilities.

At this year’s MACo Summer Conference, MACo’s Budget and Finance Affiliate hosted a panel discussion on the economy, proven strategies for planning, budgeting, and investing federal recovery funds, and best practices for counties to position their budgets and economies to be on a stronger footing after the federal assistance dries up.

Frederick County Council President MC Keegan-Ayer led the conversation in front of a packed house at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland.

Andy Schaufele, director of Maryland’s Board of Revenue Estimates, said that while initial projections at the onset of the pandemic predicted devastating consequences for state and local budgets, the unprecedented infusion of federal aid was critical in staving off an economic calamity. “The stimulus has done its job,” said Schaufele. “It’s gotten into the hands of the people that needed it.” But, he cautioned that while recent signs are encouraging with a sizzling real estate market and an economy springing back to life, pandemic-related economic uncertainty remains high.

Anne Arundel County Budget Officer Chris Trumbauer shared the County’s approach to investing ARPA funds, discussed the challenges of budgeting amidst a pandemic, and explained how counties can get the most bang for their buck by investing in long-term, equitable returns.

In addition to opining on the State’s fiscal picture, former Director of the Department of Legislative Services and longtime fiscal advisor to the Maryland General Assembly, Warren Deschenaux, urged counties to take a cautious approach when determining how to best invest ARPA funds. “You can only spend it once,” said Deschenaux.

More about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Full Program