BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A panel created to oversee expenditures from the $6.5 million in America Relief Plan Act money the county will get, updated Lee County Supervisors Monday on how recommendations will flow from the group to the full board of supervisors.
The panel appointed Supervisor Garry Seyb, Jr., as chairman of the ARPA committee at it’s meeting last week.
“The board has authorized the committee, now it’s putting a finer point on what the committee is authorized to do,” Seyb said.
He said it’s up to the county board on how to spend the money, but the board should set up what the committee is authorized to do.
“The board needs to decide what that committee’s gonna be authorized to do. Are they going to be authorized to filter those requests through a process to come to the board, or does the board want to see every request that comes through,” Seyb said.
A purpose statement was developed by the committee and submitted for approval to the board which prioritized funding opportunities and categories and authorize tracking requirements. The panel would review all the plans and then make a recommendation to the full board of supervisors.
That purpose statement was approved unanimously by the board.
“I want to make sure everybody understand that with this you are authorizing the committee to do those things,” Seyb said.
“If you’ve been reading…we’ve looked at different focus areas to funding and those would be the areas we’d focus that $6.5 million on. Those areas are not all the areas that ARPA funding could go to, but these would be the ones we would focus on.”
The county has received $3.25 million of the funds and has it in an interest bearing account. The other half is expected in May of 2022. The money has to be allocated by the end 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
Supervisor Chair Matt Pflug asked if the committee looked at hiring somebody to help with the process. Seyb said at one point the board looked at Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission to help, but with SEIRPC Director Mike Norris representing several organizations that could ask for some of the money, the panel looked at that as a conflict of interest.
The panel set Seyb, Supervisor Ron Fedler, Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise, Deputy Auditor Sara Helenthal and Lee County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom as voting members of the committee, with Norris serving in an advisory capacity.
“We’re suggesting that he help provide us guidance and knowledge basis and things like that, but we’re recommending that he not be a voting member just so you don’t have that conflict of interest,” Seyb said.
Pflug asked if the guidance from the federal government had come in because some entities in other states are already allocating funds.
“Down by the Lake of the Ozarks, they are already allocating money out. They’re already doing it,” he said. “Why aren’t we.”
Fraise said the county isn’t obligated to use the funds until 2024 and Renstrom said the county was still waiting on final guidance to make sure the county uses the money appropriately.
Pflug said the people in that county in Missouri must have guidance if they are already spending the money.
Seyb said there are things in current guidance that money is allowed for such as broadband expansion.
“For instance if we wanted to throw all our money at broadband, we could throw $6.5 million at broadband and be absolutely fine,” Seyb said. “We could do that. Those guidelines have never changed as far as broadband or septic sewers, so if those organizations are putting money toward that there’s no risk in that.”
But he said the committee has been looking at the health department facilities and drive thru access for vaccinations, that may be improved with the funds, but there are gray areas with regard to new construction.
Seyb also said Renstrom is trying to determine what financial loss the county has encountered because of COVID. Renstrom is taking a composite look at 2017-2019 as far as revenue growth and comparing it to 2020 to see if the county suffered a loss.
Any loss could potentially come out of the ARPA funds straight to the county’s general fund to help make it whole and then the percentages allocated for other projects would stay in tact, but the total dollars allowed for each category would be reduced by the amount the county takes in losses.
Renstrom’s been working on the computation for several weeks under strict federal guidelines for making the determination.
Pflug said the board of supervisors should be involved in all final decisions.
“When it comes down to finalizing, we should all weigh in because there’s gonna be some disgruntled people,” Pflug said.
Seyb agreed saying the money can’t be spent until the board approves recommendations.
Currently the panel wants to allocate the funds as follows: 30% to broadband improvements; 10% to water and sewer projects in municipalities in Lee County, including EPA mandated sewer separation projects; 30% to county projects, 10% to child care projects, 10% to housing projects, and 5% each to non profit and tourism efforts.
The panel is planning to finalize an application process once all the federal guidelines are completed and received. Once those guidelines are finalized, groups within the county including governmental and non-profits could apply for consideration of funding from the remaining pool of money.