Commission now turns attention to crafting plan for $2.8M in ARPA funds

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 9/8/21

HERMANN — With some specific guidance in hand, the Gasconade County Commission now turns its attention to crafting a plan for using  the $2.8-million allotment of federal dollars it is …

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Commission now turns attention to crafting plan for $2.8M in ARPA funds

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HERMANN — With some specific guidance in hand, the Gasconade County Commission now turns its attention to crafting a plan for using  the $2.8-million allotment of federal dollars it is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Half of that money has been received; the second installment is scheduled to arrive next year.

How long it will take county government administrators to cobble a plan is unclear. According to Kelly Sink of Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), some counties in the region are moving quickly on deciding what do with their money while other counties are in no hurry to begin spending their share of the funds. Sink met with the Commission last Thursday during its monthly session held at Owensville City Hall.

MRPC will act be administering the ARPA funds for Gasconade County, much as it did during the past year’s appropriations  of the $1.7-million CARES Act funding. That money primarily was used to reimburse local government agencies for expenses incurred in dealing with the coronavirus. The use of the money was expanded to include a variety of other things, such as equipment purchases for the Sheriff’s Department, a walking trail and other projects proposed by the Hermann Area Regional Economic Development Corporation and as a way to help cover private businesses’ loss in revenue as a result of the pandemic.

But unlike the CARES Act money, ARPA funding is aimed essentially at financing local government projects that could help in the economic recovery from the pandemic. How the money will be used is up to the Commission.

“Ultimately, we have the final say?” asked Northern District Associate Commissioner Jim Holland, R-Hermann.

“Absolutely,” said Sink. “It is up to every county’s discretion as how to distribute your dollars,” she added.

As outlined by Sink, who is meeting with each of the eight counties in the Meramec Region, there are five categories of projects:

• Supporting public health efforts.

• Dealing with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

• Replacing lost revenue for government agencies.

• Providing premium pay for employees who continued to work during the period of shutdowns and strict protocols.

• Invest the funds in water and sewer projects and broadband expansion.

There can be a variety of projects within each category, which would be explained by county officials on the form provided by MRPC. Sink said the document is designed to help county leaders keep track of their projects and to stay on track with the  use of the money.

“It really outlines your thought process,” she said, noting that MRPC staff will be monitoring a county’s priorities as outlined on the form.

The regional planning agency also will work to make sure a county’s priorities fall within the parameters of the ARPA program.

“To make sure you are utilizing your funds appropriately,” Sink said. “And then, of course, we’ll have to track those exact expenditures,” she added.

Counties have until the end of 2024 to commit the use of the money and until the end of 2026 to spend the money. “There’s the obligation deadline and an expense deadline,” Sink said.

A county can use all of its money for county-only projects or it can participate in a cost-sharing project with other government entities, such as a municipality. Cities are receiving their own allotments of ARPA funds, but their money is being passed down through the state. Hermann and Owensville each are scheduled to receive more than $400,000. Counties are receiving their funds directly from the federal government.

Sink said Meramec Region counties are taking different approaches regarding their funding. For instance, Maries County wants to move its Sheriff’s Department out of the courthouse and possibly build a regional jail. Crawford County is taking a slow approach in deciding how to use its money, but Osage County already has a definite plan for using its money. Administrators in Osage County want to move the Health Department out of the Administration Building into its own separate structure.

“That’s their primary focus,” Sink said. And to that end, Osage County is the first county to commit the use of some of the money — $95 — for an advertisement related to the building it wants to use for its health agency.

Phelps County, which has the largest allocation of ARPA money of all eight Meramec Region counties, is looking to connect more people to the Internet, Sink said.

“Their primary focus is broadband,” she added.

And then, she said, there’s Dent County, where the County Commission is going to take a long time before it makes any definite decisions. Sink said that Dent County officials have indicated they will not begin working on a plan until the second half of the county’s money arrives.

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, said county officials “need to be very stringent” on the project considered for funding.

Sink asked if the Commission has any priority projects in mind.

“Short answer: ‘No,’” replied Miskel.

But there might be one provision of the law that county officials take advantage of rather quickly. Of the eight counties, Gasconade was the only one to show a loss in revenue since 2019 of more than $50,000. A good portion of that was in the motor fuels tax the county receives each month. With fewer people driving during 2020, there was less gasoline and diesel purchased, which produced less revenue.

Gasconade County could take that money straight off the top of the amount allocated to the county. The Commission is poised to claim that amount.

Commissioners will not be meeting Thursday in Hermann this week since members of the County Clerk’s staff will be attending state conference activities. Commissioners are scheduled to return to session at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the courthouse in Hermann.

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