Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington County officials met Tuesday morning for a work session on uses for nearly $4.3 million of COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA.)
While officials rattled off items from a “wish list” composed by department heads, the meeting’s main focus was deciding how to decide uses for the money.
“We need a procedure,” Supervisor Stan Stoops said. “We’ve got the committee, we’ve got the list of people that are on the committee, but are we still interested in subcommittees? There are people that would like to be on these committees who have contacted me.”
That committee is currently composed of Supervisors Stoops and Marcus Fedler, County Sheriff Jared Schneider, Auditor Dan Widmer, Conservation Director Zach Rozmus, Treasurer Jeff Garrett, Recorder Jo Greiner, Engineer Jacob Thorius, Emergency Management Coordinator Marissa Reisen, and a representative from public health.
Stoops defended the county’s lengthy decision making process despite federal guidance that would allow the county to spend the money early.
“We’ve got some time to make the decisions,” he said. “Because of that time, we’re going to drag our feet and make sure that our decisions are good for the betterment of this county.”
Stoops said county leaders would need cost estimates for items on the list of suggestions from department heads.
“I would like money figures for what each suggestion is,” Stoops said. “Put your number figures down, so we all have an idea of what we’re looking at.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Richard Young said a planning meeting now would ensure things moved along smoothly.
“The next step is that the committee meets, and then you guys can bring suggestions about when you’re going to bring these things to the board,” he said. “I think if you don’t start setting time frames and setting dates, this is going to just keep getting kicked down the road.”
It’s unclear how many of the 23 items on the county’s running list would qualify for ARPA money, which comes with strings attached and a limited scope of eligible uses, according to the U.S. Treasury’s interim final rules.
“There’s six areas that are still on the interim rules where the money’s supposed to be spent,” Young said. “Public health, negative economic impacts, services to disproportionately impacted communities, premium pay, water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, and then the last one is revenue replacement.”
Young said the county’s ARPA committee would determine what projects on the list met the requirements, with outlier projects potential funded by the revenue replacement clause.
“ (The) committee should look at these list and determine where these would fit,” he said. “If something on this list doesn’t meet the requirements, it could fit under the lost revenue because with the lost revenue, my understanding is we can do whatever we want with that. That’s the catchall.”
County officials said they didn’t know how much of their ARPA funds classified as lost revenue, but Supervisor Marcus Fedler said it was an amount greater than $1 million.
Young also pitched the idea of having a subcommittee for each of the six areas eligible for relief spending, with subcommittee members chosen by the head group.
“I think you, Stan, and the committee get together, and now that we have this list, put that list into one of those six areas,” he said. “You can have subcommittees off of that list.”
Another point of contention is what projects deserve the cash. County Conservation Director Zach Rozmus said the money should focus on projects directly responsive to the pandemic.
“As a committee member, if I do have a say, I just want to make sure that this is in response to the COVID,” he said. “We’re not just doing a project type of thing. It’s like, ‘Hey, this is a need that we’re seeing that came from the pandemic,’ or it’s a response … type of thing.”
Rozmus said his department’s requests met that criteria.
“I’m not trying to make this my own soapbox, but one of the things that we’ve seen at conservation is our numbers spiked for trail usage and all of our parks,” he said. “And it’s stayed there, it’s not going backwards … I do think when we look at that list, we need to think if this is what it’s intended for.”
As of now, the ARPA committee is scheduled to meet at the end of the next two county department head meetings, Dec. 23 and Jan. 27.
One thing is certain: county officials will have to trim down the list, putting any number of items on the chopping block.
“I don’t know how we can do all of this list with the amount of money we got,” Young said. “As a committee, you’re going to set priorities for where you want to see that money go, and bring it back to us five, so that we can make the final decision.”