County To Consider Using Task Pressure, Consultant To Determine How To Spend Rescue Plan Funds

Grand Traverse County’s commissioners will consider hiring an advisor at next Wednesday’s meeting and establishing a task force to lead a public filing process that will determine how $ 18.2 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP ) can be spent on community projects.

District administrators on Wednesday gave commissioners an initial detailed look at the federal $ 1.9 trillion ARP aid package, which includes $ 350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. Michigan will receive $ 5.6 billion and Grand Traverse County will receive $ 18.2 million. Assistant District Administrator Chris Forsyth noted that the Grand Traverse County area will receive a total of $ 27 million when the funds distributed to local parishes, villages and the city of Traverse City are included. While there are certain restrictions on how funds are used – for example, they cannot be used to settle unfunded pension liabilities or existing debt / litigation settlements, and cannot be deposited into a Reserve or Rainy Day fund – there are five categories of approved Expenses that allow broad flexibility for community investment. Forsyth on Wednesday gave an overview of these five categories and possible uses for Grand Traverse County:

1) Response to COVID-19: This category includes a set of “best practices for containing and preventing the spread of a virus,” said Forsyth. This can include things like testing, contact tracing, vaccine distribution, equipment like filters and contactless systems, funding for hospitals and care facilities, funding for health and rescue workers, and improving public buildings for mitigation purposes. As an indication of how flexible the current output language is, the administrators noted that digitizing district files, which are currently taking up physical space in the government center, could be seen as mitigation efforts so that the district could have more space to supply residents in the event of a pandemic Has. appropriate emergency. Forsyth also stressed that mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and other behavioral health services fall into this category.

2) Responding to the Negative Economic Impact of COVID-19: This category uses funds to repair economic damage resulting from the public health emergency. In particular, this could include direct aid to households, small businesses, hospitality such as tourism or restaurants, and non-profit organizations. Forsyth noted that current federal guidelines allow counties to transfer some or all of their funds to nonprofit groups to manage them in eligible categories – although the county remains responsible for ensuring that the money is properly spent – and can also distribute funds to other government units. like local townships or villages for joint projects.

3) Provision of bonuses for key workers: This category includes certain key workers and allows counties to distribute premium wages of up to $ 13 an hour in addition to the wages the worker is already receiving. This amount cannot exceed $ 25,000 per eligible worker and includes categories such as healthcare workers, farm / grocery / restaurant workers, public health and safety workers, janitorial and sanitary workers, trucking, transportation and warehouse workers, childcare workers and educators as well as social and personal service companies.

4) Replacement of lost public sector revenue: State, local, territorial, and tribal governments facing budget constraints can use recovery funds to avoid cuts in government services. According to a US Treasury Department formula, Grand Traverse County has a calculated revenue loss of $ 2.3 million. Forsyth also noted that the county’s $ 18.2 million will be split into two payments – $ 9.1 million was already distributed in July, and the remaining $ 9.1 million is expected next July – and that the county can deposit these funds into an interest-bearing account until they are ready to be spent again. Any interest generated by the funds in this account “can be used for any purpose,” Forsyth said.

5) Investments in infrastructure: This infrastructure spending is specific to the water, sewage and broadband categories, including projects to improve access to clean drinking water, improve sewage and rainwater systems, improve resilience to severe weather events, control non-point sources of pollution and improve broadband services for unserved or underserved population groups. Eligible broadband projects are those that provide services with upload / download speeds of 100 Mbps. The water / wastewater infrastructure can include projects on private properties.

Several of the above five categories have “bonus” spending areas when funds are allocated to neighborhoods where the majority of residents have low incomes. This is known as the Qualified Census Tract (QCT), defined as an area where 50 percent of households have incomes less than 60 percent of the median income (AMI). Forsyth says Grand Traverse County has a QCT that “covers a fair amount of Garfield Township and a little of the city,” with the county’s LaFranier Road campus in the middle of the zone. QCT-enabled activities include funding for community health workers, public service navigators, remediation of lead paint and other lead hazards, community violence intervention programs, expanded childcare and early intervention programs, assistance to specific school programs, and housing services, including affordable / supporting living space and living vouchers / navigators.

With so many categories of eligible spending – and the federal government has yet to release its final rules for using ARP funds – many counties are seeking help from advisors to guide them through a structured public submission process to create spending plans for their dollars. The county owes a report to the federal government by the end of January and must allocate its $ 18.2 million to specific projects by the end of 2024. The funds must actually be spent by the end of 2026 so that the districts are “patient and careful” in their approach. Counties were told to make the most of a “great opportunity” and “don’t screw it up,” Alger said dryly.

Alger said he plans to give commissioners a recommendation next week to enter into a consultancy agreement with Public Sector Consultants (PSC), an independent, non-partisan consultancy supported by the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC). Alger will also seek input from the Commission next week to set up a task force, which could consist of staff, commissioners and / or other stakeholders, to work with the PSC and develop recommendations for spending. Commissioner Betsy Coffia noted that the $ 18.2 million belongs not to the district administrators or commissioners, but to the community, and said she will be “a strong advocate for robust direct community engagement” when it comes to how they spend money. Commissioner Darryl Nelson agreed that public engagement is critical and whether there are “collaborative projects” that Grand Traverse County could achieve with local communities by pooling resources. Alger added that in addition to the upcoming public meetings, the county can also consider the results of a recent community-wide survey that identified affordable housing, childcare, broadband access and mental health services as the top needs in the county.

Some commissioners and local leaders warned Wednesday that while $ 18.2 million may seem like a sizeable sum of money, it can go fast on large infrastructure projects and other types of spending. East Bay Township Supervisor Beth Friend said Grand Traverse County has “a great team to walk you through good process,” but pointed out that a recent project to re-line the township sewers along Munson Avenue alone 1,2 Cost millions of dollars. “These are very expensive projects,” she says. Tony Lentych of the Traverse City Housing Commission told district commissioners that numerous local organizations had discussed ARP funding for Grand Traverse County and how it could benefit community projects. “Your money has been spent so many times by so many different groups,” he said with a laugh.

Commissioner Brad Jewett said the county needs to be strategic to get “the best for the money” out of ARP funds, but also said that “people need to be a little careful” to see how quickly the money is being shared can. It doesn’t take long to “devour millions of dollars,” said Jewett. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money.”

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