Objectives set for how first round of relief funding will be spent, commissioners to discuss requests this week

Earlier this year it was announced that Brown County would receive nearly $3 million in relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to help with the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amount the county is getting through the ARP is almost six times more than the $494,248 the county received in CARES Act funding last year. The ARPA money will be split into two payments. The county received its first payment this summer, totalling around $1.4 million.

Local governments can use the money for a number of expenses, including revenue shortfalls; responding to negative impacts on housing, nonprofits and small businesses due to the pandemic; paying salaries of essential workers; paying for necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure; or capital investments in public facilities to meet pandemic operational needs.

Before administering any of the ARPA money, the Brown County Commissioners planned to set up objectives for how to distribute the money.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, Commissioner Diana Biddle announced the objectives for the first round of funding would be to provide funding for projects that “develop and advance essential infrastructure improvements.”

Money will also be used to cover the costs of upgrades to the Brown County Health Department’s new office at 200 Hawthorne Drive. Those upgrades include paving the parking lot and new sidewalks there that will allow nurses to exit the back door and test people for COVID outside in their cars without having to go through the front entrance.

The first round of funding will also go towards supporting “premium pay for essential workers,” Biddle said.

Another objective was to fund the purchase of equipment for virtual meetings,

“If for some reason the three of us get sick we have to have a way to do this electronically,” Biddle said.

The final objective is to replace any revenue losses in the county’s budget.

“We don’t have a huge amount of revenue loss,” Biddle said.

She continued that Auditor Julia Reeves had been working with the county’s financial adviser Baker Tilly to identify those revenue losses. Around $100,000 was identified in revenue loss due to the pandemic, Biddle said.

The commissioners have received at least seven requests for ARPA funding that are outside of the first round objectives, including a possible park or green space in the county dedicated to those lost in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Part of our planning is creating these objectives so we can kind of narrow down the field for the beginning then as we fund essential support items then we can start looking at quality of life items,” Biddle said.

The second round of ARPA funding is expected to arrive in the first few months of 2022. But for this first round of funding, the commissioners want to focus on infrastructure and revenue loss as the county is projected to bring in 7 percent less in income taxes next year.

At the Dec. 8 commissioners meeting the plan is to address requests for ARPA funding from various organizations and boards.

The Brown County Water Utility had already submitted a request this summer for ARPA funding to the county for a project they are working on. The Brown County Regional Sewer District also put in a request for funding for sewer projects they are trying to accomplish. There is also a request for money to help acquire additional property around the Helmsburg sewer plant for future growth and expansion, Biddle said.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, a question was raised if public input on the projects to be funded with the first round of ARPA money would be accepted. Biddle said that comments would be taken on the projects to be funded with the second distribution.

“We have a couple of things that are really pressing infrastructural wise right now,” Biddle said about the projects to be paid for using the first round of funding.

Another infrastructure project to be partially funded with ARPA funds is the stormwater project in Helmsburg. ARPA funds will go towards paying $250,000 to finish that project.

Biddle said it is likely the commissioners will have a meeting in January to further address requests and projects for the first round of funding.

“There are just so many moving parts to it,” she said, noting future funding for broadband access in Indiana from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden recently signed into law that sets aside billions of dollars to improve broadband internet throughout the country.

“There is $600 million specifically for broadband for Indiana. With 92 counties we will get a chunk of that,” she said.

No official award of ARPA funding to projects has been made. The commissioners will meet in the Salmon Room in the County Office Building at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8.