BY PCC STAFF
LEE COUNTY – A Lee County panel working through the distribution of $6.5 million in federal funds out of the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, now has more than 30 applications for funding.
The initial deadline for filing applications with Lee County for funding in one of five categories, including tourism, housing, child care, broadband, or projects within the Lee County public offices, was Monday.
At Monday’s Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Garry Seyb said he had received a lot of calls about the ARPA funding. Just three weeks ago, the panel had only seen about six applications.
One application has already been approved by the board, and that’s for $1.9 million to be used as a matching grant to trigger more than $3 million in state funding to put in a broadband backbone through Lee County to serve the county’s most under-served areas.
Seyb, who chairs the ARPA fund panel, said depending on the review of the current projects, there could possibly be a second round of applications accepted.
The committee will meet again on Monday for an initial review of the applications on file.
“My thought is as a committee to go through each one of them by project identifier and see what qualifies and what doesn’t qualify,” Seyb said. “That would be the committee’s first swing at it. And for the ones that do qualify, after reading through some applications, it might behoove us to maybe have those people come in and explain (the projects).”
Seyb said he envisioned the committee making recommendations to the full board and then possibly having representatives come to supervisors and talk about their projects.
“Some of these are very large projects, and some are smaller projects.”
Chuck Vandenberg, the county’s ARPA fund administrator, said the panel and the board could consider the projects piecemeal.
“I would recommend looking at some of them piecemeal as well. There are a lot of different asks in these. Some of those are very relevant to the goals you are trying to achieve, and some parts may not be as relevant,” he said.
“There are a lot of different ways to look at it based on the (U.S. Department of Treasury’s) Interim Final Rule.”
The Treasury is anticipating releasing a Final Rule document in the next three to six months.
Vandenberg also said the county may want to look at granting funding as forgivable loans similar to the federal PPP loan program. Those were forgivable loans with no interest if requirements in place were met.
Under the Treasury’s rules for ARPA fund disbursements, the money has to be allocated to projects by Dec. 31, 2024 and the funds have to be spent prior to Dec. 31, 2026. The Treasury does have language in its current rules that allow for recouping of funds if not properly allocated and utilized.
“It’s going to take time to go through what we’ve got,” Seyb said. “We have a lot of applications. Some have an impact outside of Lee County, and I think we want to focus our attention and funds on Lee County, that would be one issue. And No. 2 we want to make sure we’re making a lasting impact.”
He said requests for hiring staff for a period of time would need some sustainability piece to it.
“The committee’s going to have some questions and I know I’m going to have some questions. These funds we’re providing are not sustainable. They are one-time funding. If you hire someone for three years how are you going to sustain that.”
The county created five categories with different percentages of the $6.5 million for each category. County projects, which is loosely geared toward projects within the administration of county offices, is tentatively allocated 42% of the funds, or $2.73 million.
Broadband was allocated 30%. Funding requests to help with child care and housing projects have been earmarked $650,000, or 10% each, tourism has been allocated 5% or $325,000.
The remaining $195,000 is being used to help pay half of a five-year commitment for a county ARPA administrator/grant writer position. The other half is being paid out of the Supervisors’ budget.
Vandenberg was hired by the county for that position two weeks ago and started Oct. 20.