Update: On Wednesday, the Lancaster County commissioners elected to table a resolution to appropriate $4.58 million in ARPA funds for county projects. (See "Two ARPA resolutions," below.)
Doing so will allow more time to gather and review the relevant background information, Commissioner Ray D'Agostino said. He said the commissioners aim to have the resolution back on their agenda soon, ideally this coming week.
For months, Lancaster County's commissioners have chosen to defer decisions on how to spend the majority of the county's $106 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.
But with final federal guidance set to take effect Friday, that's changing.
Next week, Budget Services Director Patrick Mulligan will present to the commissioners the findings and recommendations of the county's ARPA work group, which has been reviewing ideas for using the money and evaluating their eligibility under the federal guidance, Commissioner Ray D'Agostino said during the commissioners' work session Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the county is developing an application for third parties to request ARPA funding. D'Agostino released a draft of the application at the work session.
The commissioners could finalize and approve the application as soon as next week, after which people could start applying, D'Agostino said. Nonprofits, businesses and local municipalities would all be eligible to apply.
As the document states, the county is looking for "one-time projects that will benefit all (county) taxpayers" and that won't require ongoing operational funding. Applicants should have sources of funding other than ARPA — the more outside funding, the better — and their proposed projects should provide community benefit in one of the following areas:
- Infrastructure (water, sewer, broadband)
- Clean water or environmental conservation
- Public safety
- Technology modernization
- Workforce development
- Disease prevention and control in congregate settings.
D'Agostino did not have an estimate for how much funding might be allocated through the application process. That depends on the county's other uses for ARPA: It provided nearly 80% of its CARES Act funding to the community, but with ARPA, officials anticipate using a "sizeable portion" to update the county's own infrastructure.
The county has already used several million dollars from ARPA, much of it to provide hiring and retention bonuses to prison guards and other county staff.
Applications would be accepted on a rolling basis. The ARPA work group would review them and provide recommendations to the commissioners, who would vote on allocations.
Two ARPA resolutions
Meanwhile, the commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on two resolutions regarding ARPA.
The first would place $20 million of the funds in fixed-income securities through the investment firm CS McKee. The money won't be needed for some time, and this way it can safely earn more interest, which the county can add into its ARPA total, Treasurer Amber Martin and Controller Lisa Colon said.
Colon, Martin and the commissioners discussed three investment options with average maturities ranging from three months to eight months. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates multiple times this year; the consensus was that 6 months would offer the best balance between earning a satisfactory return and staying flexible enough to be able to re-invest later this year, when the Fed's course of action and its effect on markets will be clearer.
The investment is a trial run, Martin said. If everything works out well, the county will look at making similar fixed-income investments with some of its general funds to boost interest earnings.
The second resolution would appropriate $4.58 million in ARPA funds for an assortment of ARPA-eligible county projects and reimbursements for past expenses — 21 line items in all.
All of them are requests made by county departments, as reviewed and vetted by the ARPA work group.
Commissioner John Trescot objected to approving all of them through a single resolution. There's no emergency or rush to spend ARPA, he said, so the commissioners should be able to consider the rationale for each project in full.
The ARPA work group went through that detailed process, Solicitor Jackie Pfursich said, and the information is available to the commissioners. Trescott, however, said Wednesday's scheduled vote doesn't allow enough time for review.