Lancaster County commissioners are reviewing guidelines for community organizations applying for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding after receiving public feedback during Tuesday’s business session.
The guidelines, which the commissioners released last week, set out the types of project organizations and certain municipalities can apply for ARPA funds and the timeline on which those funds must be spent.
Commissioners could vote on final guidelines as early as next week, said John Trescot, the only Democrat on the three-member council. The draft released last week says applications will be considered on an as-needed basis, meaning the board’s adoption of the final guidelines would effectively start the application process for eligible organizations.
The county has yet to say how much of the $106 million in ARPA funds it has received will be earmarked for community projects, but “a significant portion” of the funds will go to the county itself to help hire and retain staff and improve its infrastructure. , in accordance with the draft guidelines.
On Wednesday, commissioners approved spending just over $730,000 of those funds on purchases and projects proposed by a number of county government departments. Last week, they voted to put $20 million into a six-month investment to generate additional revenue while executives continue to flesh out final spending plans.
Republican commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Joshua Parsons did not return requests for comment on the funding guidelines.
Officials across the country play an outsized role in directing how ARPA funds are invested, and in many areas the public has been invited to participate in that decision-making.
The City of Lancaster solicited public input on how to spend its $39.5 million in ARPA funds by surveying about 600 residents online and in person last year. Residents identified investments in affordable housing, behavioral health and support for homeless people as their top priorities.
In August 2021, neighboring York County consulted with a community task force as it committed nearly $42 million in ARPA funding for various economic needs in the county, including $3 million to its tourism and tourism industry. hospitality and $9.5 million in grants to small businesses and nonprofits, according to a news release.
Starting in February, Chester County formed a 36-member committee of government employees and county residents to make recommendations on how their funds should be used, and the deadline for applications in the county. is mid-May 2022.
But it’s unclear what role the public will have in shaping Lancaster County’s plan, at least beyond the Commissioner’s public meetings, which are held weekly at the Lancaster County Government Center and broadcast live and recorded. on the county’s website.
“To date, there has been no agreement among commissioners to hold a separate meeting just for the community to ask questions about ARPA fund priorities,” Trescot said. “I will say that I am in favor of that.”
Guidelines under review
Draft county guidelines released last week specify that ARPA-funded projects must address certain infrastructure, environment, public safety, technology, workforce development, disaster mitigation illnesses or affordable housing issues without duplicating any existing government programs. Federal funds should also not be the sole source of funding for projects, according to the draft guidelines.
The guidelines proposed by the commissioners also state that the projects must be completed by the end of 2024, despite federal guidelines allowing spending to continue until the end of 2026 as long as they are incurred two years earlier.
That has raised concerns about whether projects that aren’t “shovel-ready” and can be completed within that time frame will receive funding, said Dana Hanchin, president of HDC MidAtlantic, an affordable housing development organization.
“Having a funding source that can offer a little more flexibility than others, to be able to use it in a way that can really make a difference, would be meaningful,” Hanchin said.
In an April 4 letter to commissioners, the Lancaster County Economic Development Corporation recommended that commissioners set aside $10 million in ARPA funds to support broadband expansion projects. The EDC also suggested that the commissioners revise their ARPA guidelines, which they say “effectively prevent” broadband and other forms of infrastructure from receiving funding.
“When we saw the draft guidelines, which were just released last week, coming out of county commissioners, some of the challenges we saw right away were that they were approaching this on an ongoing enforcement basis” , said Lisa Riggs, the president of the EDC. “If it takes you a few months or more to file an application, you don’t know if you’ll have any money left.”
“What we’re trying to do now is respond as quickly as possible given the limited time we have,” she added.
Once the application process opens, a working group made up of several county administrators will review the proposals, Commissioner Trescot said. Those that do not meet the criteria for funding or are incomplete will not be presented to the public, he said, meaning voters may never see all of the proposals submitted, only those that are forwarded to the entire Board of Commissioners.