It has been a challenging few years for Richard Anderson and the Northwest Railway Museum.
The museum not only lost $1.4 million in revenue after the pandemic shuttered its summer programming, but a lack of volunteers during the public health crisis has caused a maintenance backlog — leaving track repairs, bridge redecking and re-roofing of the Snoqualmie Depot still to be completed.
“This is a widespread problem,” Anderson said. “Many museums like us have huge ongoing maintenance needs and have been badly impacted.”
The railway museum is among several businesses in Snoqualmie that even two years after the pandemic began, they are still struggling to recover from a host of challenges, including staffing shortages, supply-chain disruptions and inflationary costs.
Easing of some of those challenges may be on the way. The city of Snoqualmie could begin sending out long-awaited grant funding later this month that was requested by 56 businesses and nonprofits back in October.
Those grants funds come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was passed by the U.S. Congress in March 2021. That legislation earmarked $350 billion in aid to be provided to state, local and tribal governments to be used to fight economic challenges caused by the pandemic.
The City of Snoqualmie was awarded $1.9 million in ARPA funds back in June 2021. In October, the city asked businesses and nonprofits to submit applications requesting aid, resulting in a total request of $3.6 million. Since then, a city council ARPA committee has been deciding how those funds should be distributed.
“Small businesses have been hit hard, and we’re doing our best to help soften the blow,” Councilmember Rob Wotton, a member of the city’s ARPA committee, said at the June 13 council meeting, noting that even with the funds, “ongoing needs are still going to be there.”
Julio Ibarra, who co-owns the Goddard School in Snoqualmie with his wife, Maria, said he would be “grateful for any funds” they are granted, and the money would be used to support teacher retention and hire new staff.
In March 2022, the city’s ARPA committee earmarked half of the $1.9 million it received to be given away as grant funds. A month later, the city’s ARPA coordinator began scoring applications based upon criteria set by the council, using those numbers to dictate how funds were divided. That criteria prioritized Snoqualmie-based business that could demonstrate a loss in revenue caused by the pandemic. Funds were also prioritized for those making capital improvements and those who were providing a community-based need, such as childcare.
With the applications scored, the council is expected to vote on a final proposal that would distribute $749,931 in funds to 38 businesses and 13 nonprofits at its next meeting on June 27. The proposal awards up to $25,000 for business and nonprofits and up to $50,000 for anchor nonprofits, including the Railway Museum and Sno-King Ice Arena, which the city said brings a lot of economic vitality.
The proposal comes after what some business owners say has been a months-long delayed process in getting those funds out to businesses.
Anderson, with the railway museum, said they were originally led to believe that a decision would be made last winter.
“We’re not really sure what the hold up’s been,” he said. “They’re just about ready to make a decision and that’s been going on for six months now.”
David Storm, owner of restaurant Buckshot Honey, shared similar concerns, saying receiving those funds would be a “huge help” for his business. He also expressed frustrations with a five- to six-month delay.
“I can’t put everything on hold and wait for this money,” he said. “If it comes through I would be really grateful, but I’m not counting on it.”
In May, a city spokesperson told the Valley Record that although the process to distribute the funds has taken slightly longer than expected, they pointed out that final guidelines set by the U.S. Treasury Department for how those funds could be spent were only released this January, and only became effective in April.
At its last council meeting on June 13, the city council tabled a final vote that would have begun distributing funds. This was to allow councilmembers another opportunity to look over the allotments before they go out for final approval. Still, Wotton and Councilmember Bryan Holloway, members of the city’s ARPA committee, stressed the importance of getting funds out quickly.
“Lets keep in mind we started this in October of last year. We’re now into June,” Holloway said to fellow council members. “I’ve been really pushing lets get this settled and out … we have missed eight months of benefit we could have given the community.”
The city of North Bend declined to provide an update on its current plan for its ARPA funds, including whether the city plans to introduce a grant program for small businesses and nonprofits. A city spokesperson said the city will have an update June 28 during a council workstudy.
The City of North Bend received $1 million in ARPA funding in 2021 and expects to see a second $1 million in 2022. In a state of the city address earlier this year, North Bend Rob McFarland said those funds would be used to support small business, replenish lost city revenues and combat economic impacts of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the North Bend City Council approved an Economic Development Action Plan using just $50,000 of its ARPA funding.