The Lancaster County commissioners plan to consider next week whether to make $6 million available to community organizations in a second round of American Rescue Plan Act grants.
If the commissioners sign off on the idea, the application process would run much as it did last time, Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said during a discussion at Tuesday’s work session.
Applications would be due Aug. 31, he said. They would be evaluated by a review committee, which would bring recommendations to the commissioners for a vote.
The county received a total of $106 million in ARPA funds. Out of that amount, it has committed $66.6 million to date — $44 million to internal county uses, $22.6 million to community grants.
That leaves $39.4 million unspent, Director of Budget Services Patrick Mulligan said.
County administrators have identified uses for about $29.9 million of that $39.4 million, Mulligan said. Setting aside $6 million for community grants as well would leave a reserve of $3.5 million.
“It worked very well last time,” Commissioner Josh Parsons said of the first round of ARPA community funding. “The projects that came out have been beneficial to the community.”
Parsons said he’d be fine with a community grant round of $5 million to $6 million this time. Commissioner John Trescot, however, said he thinks $6 million is “light.”
He questioned whether the county should take all the money it’s entitled to under ARPA’s “lost revenue” provisions. County revenues largely held steady during the pandemic, he said, so the county would essentially be taking advantage of ARPA to help itself to a windfall.
Instead, he said, the county should hew to the spirit of ARPA, and look at making true long-term investments in the community.
He pressed Mulligan for details on how the county arrived at $29.9 million as its share of the remaining funds.
“Either you have a budget, or you don’t,” he said. “It is incumbent on budget services to make (the numbers) much clearer.”
Mulligan said the county’s proposed uses for ARPA going forward include:
- Replacing 911 towers
- County IT services
- Replacing and enhancing county accounting and financial software
He said the county is entitled to reserve about $10 million for revenue replacement and to cover salaries and other costs related to the pandemic.
He and D’Agostino promised Trescot would have the details he requested. D’Agostino said more information is making its way through the ARPA committee and will be provided to the board in coming days.
Parsons noted that between ARPA and the CARES Act that preceded it, the county has distributed $110 million in pandemic relief in the community, and that every municipality received its own ARPA funding. He has said consistently that because of those two factors, it’s appropriate for the county to reserve the majority of its ARPA funding for its own uses.
Trescot objected somewhat to Parsons lumping CARES and ARPA together. The CARES Act, he said, was a short-term stopgap measure implemented to offset the initial effects of the pandemic and the related economic shutdown; ARPA, on the other hand, lets communities invest long-term and should be treated accordingly.
Parsons asked whether the county should allow a little more “wiggle room” in its grant guidelines. In the first round, it limited grants to long-term projects, ruling out as ineligible proposals to spend ARPA funds on items such as stretchers and oxygen tanks. Trescot said he’d be open to being somewhat more flexible.