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What to do with $2.6M

County Board studies spending ARPA funds

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Sep 5, 2021

How to spend more federal funds was the topic of discussion when the Faribault County Board of Commissioners met in a work session on Tuesday, Aug. 31.

Faribault County will be receiving a total of $2.65 million through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 of this year.

“We have already received half of the money,” county auditor/treasurer Darren Esser said. “It is in a savings account earning interest, which is allowed under the terms of ARPA. We should receive the second half of the county’s allotment next summer.”

Cities and townships in Faribault County are also eligible to receive funds, according to Esser.

“The cities and townships in the county are set to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $850,000,” Esser explained. “That money is in addition to what the county receives.”

A worksheet provided by Esser showed the funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024 and then must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

How the funds may be spent is where things can get complicated.

“It is one of those things where the more you research a question, the more questions you raise,” Esser commented. “For instance, the recovery funds may be used to replace lost revenue experienced due to COVID-19; but how the loss is calculated can be confusing.”

According to Esser, funds which are spent to replace lost revenue have fewer restrictions on how they can be spent.

“However, even if the county is unable to show a loss, it should not be a problem to utilize the funds even with the greater number of restrictions which would have to be met,” Esser said. “The funds can still be used in the areas of public health, to offset negative economic impacts, to provide services to disproportionately impacted communities, to provide premium pay to public sector employees or grants to other employers in the private sector, to improve infrastructure or to cover some administrative costs.”

Esser gave an example of how the money might be used to invest in public health.

“An improvement to a building’s ventilation system by updating the structure’s fresh air exchange or by replacing water piping are a couple of examples,” Esser shared. “Planning would have to have taken place prior to March 3 of this year as long as costs were not incurred prior to that date.”

Esser suggested hiring a consultant, (which would be covered by the ARPA funds), to provide input on some of the questions he does not feel qualified to answer.

“Other counties are asking similar questions and seeking guidance,” Esser commented.

The commissioners were generally in favor of retaining a consultant, but because this was a planning session, could not take any action on the matter. They suggested Esser put the topic on the agenda of the next County Board meeting, which will be held on Sept. 7.

“We have time to make these decisions,” commissioner Bill Groskreutz said. “Let’s do it right.”