County plans to use task force and consultant to determine how to spend bailout funds

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Grand Traverse County Commissioners will consider hiring a consultant and creating a task force at next Wednesday’s meeting to lead a public input process that will determine how to spend $ 18.2 million of plan funds. American Rescue (ARP) for community projects.

County administrators gave commissioners a detailed first look at the $ 1.9 trillion federal ARP aid package on Wednesday, which includes $ 350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. Michigan will receive $ 5.6 billion, while Grand Traverse County will receive $ 18.2 million. Deputy County Administrator Chris Forsyth noted that when funds distributed to local townships, villages and the town of Traverse City are included, the Grand Traverse County region as a whole is expected to receive $ 27 million. While there are certain restrictions on how funds can be spent – for example, they cannot be used to pay unfunded pension liabilities or existing debt / lawsuit settlements and cannot be deposited into a bankruptcy. rainy day reserve or fund – there are five categories of approved expenditures that provide great flexibility for community investment. Forsyth gave an overview of these five categories and possible applications for Grand Traverse County on Wednesday:

1) Respond to COVID-19: This category includes a range of “best practices for mitigating and preventing the spread of a virus,” Forsyth explained. This may include items such as testing, contact tracing, vaccine distribution, equipment such as filters and contactless systems, funds for hospitals and care facilities, funds for health care. and rescuers and upgrading public buildings for mitigation. Regarding the flexibility of the current language of spending, administrators noted that the digitization of county files currently occupying the physical space of the government center could be seen as a mitigation effort so that there is more room. available to the county to serve residents in the event of a pandemic. related emergency. Forsyth also pointed out that mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and other behavioral health services are included in this category.

2) Respond to the negative economic impacts of COVID-19: This category uses funds to deal with economic damage resulting from the public health emergency. This could in particular include direct aid to households, small businesses, hotel industries 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 be administered in eligible categories – although the county is still responsible for ensuring that the money is properly. spent – and can also distribute funds to other government units, such as municipalities or local villages for collaborative projects.

3) Provide bonus for essential workers: This category covers some essential workers and allows counties to distribute a bonus amount of up to $ 13 per hour in addition to the wages the worker is already receiving. This amount must not exceed $ 25,000 per eligible worker and includes categories such as healthcare workers, agricultural / grocery / restaurant workers, public health and safety personnel, janitors, and hospital workers. sanitation, truck / transport / warehouse staff, child care workers and educators, and social and human service workers.

4) Replacement of lost public sector revenue: State, local, territorial and tribal governments facing budget deficits can use stimulus funds to avoid cuts to government services. Using a formula provided by the US Treasury Department, Grand Traverse County has a calculated loss of revenue of $ 2.3 million. Forsyth also noted that the county’s $ 18.2 million is being distributed in two installments – $ 9.1 million has already been distributed in July and the remaining $ 9.1 million is expected next July – and that the county may deposit these funds into an interest-earning account until they are ready to be spent. Any interest generated by the funds while in this account “is ours for whatever purpose,” Forsyth said.

5) Investments in infrastructure: These infrastructure expenditures are specific to water, sewage and broadband categories, including projects that improve access to potable water, improve sewage and stormwater systems, improve resilience to severe weather events, control diffuse sources of pollution and improve broadband. service to unserved or underserved populations. Eligible broadband projects are those that provide a service with upload / download speeds of 100 Mbps. Water and sewer infrastructure can include projects on private property.

Several of the five categories above have “bonus” spending areas if dollars are allocated to neighborhoods where the majority of residents are low income. This is called a Qualified Census Tract (QCT), defined as an area where 50 percent of households have an income below 60 percent of the region’s median income (AMI). According to Forsyth, Grand Traverse County has a QCT that “covers pretty much a large part of Garfield Township and a small part of the city,” with the LaFranier Road County campus smack in the middle of the area. Activities eligible for QCT include funding community health workers, public benefit navigators, remediation of lead paint and other lead hazards, community violence intervention programs, expanded programs childcare and early learning, assistance with certain school programs and housing services, including affordable / supportive housing and housing / navigator vouchers.

With so many categories of eligible spending – and the federal government has yet to release its final rules for using ARP funds – many counties seek the help of consultants to guide them through a structured public contribution process in order to create spending plans for their money. The county owes a report to the federal government by the end of January and is due to commit its $ 18.2 million to specific projects by the end of 2024. The funds are actually due to be spent by the end of 2026. Algiers said heads of state’s advice had been that counties be “patient and careful” in the way they proceed. Counties have been told to make the most of a “great opportunity” and “not to waste it,” Algiers said wryly.

Algiers said he plans to recommend commissioners next week to strike a consultancy deal with Public Sector Consultants (PSC), an independent, non-partisan consultancy that has been endorsed by the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC). Algiers will also seek input from the commission next week on establishing a working group that could be made up of staff, commissioners and / or other stakeholders to work with the PSC and develop spending recommendations. . Noting that the $ 18.2 million does not belong to the trustees or county commissioners but rather to the community, Commissioner Betsy Coffia said she “will be a strong advocate for strong direct community engagement” for decide how to spend the dollars. Commissioner Darryl Nelson agreed that public engagement was essential, as well as seeing if there were any “cooperative projects” that Grand Traverse County could achieve with local townships by pooling resources. Algiers added that in addition to upcoming public engagement sessions, the county may also look into the results of a recent community-wide survey that reported affordable housing, child care, broadband access and mental health services as the main needs of the county.

Some local commissioners and leaders warned on Wednesday that while $ 18.2 million may seem like a large sum of money, it can go quickly when it comes to 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 a good process,” but noted that a recent sewer relining project township along Munson Avenue alone cost $ 1.2 million. “These are very expensive projects,” she said. Tony Lentych of the Traverse City Housing Commission told county commissioners that many local organizations are discussing 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 chuckle.

Commissioner Brad Jewett said the county had to be strategic in “getting the best value” from ARP funds, but also said “people have to be a little careful” to realize how fast money can be. Split. It doesn’t “take long to eat several million dollars,” Jewett said. “It’s a lot of money, but yet it’s not a lot of money.”


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