County commissioners across the region received dozens of requests for some of the millions in federal aid made available during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still finding ways to allocate the funding.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law by President Joe Biden in early 2021, provided a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus intended to accelerate the country’s economic recovery and help businesses and organizations recover. recover from the pandemic. Of the federal total, $6.15 billion was allocated to Pennsylvania.
Northumberland, Snyder and Union county commissioners are finding ways to use the money to have the widest reach. The funding came with many stipulations on how and where that money can be spent.
In Union County, commissioners received more than 60 applications for a $9 million tranche by the May 31 deadline.
“Our understanding of ARPA was to help communities and counties recover from COVID,” said Union County Commissioner Stacy Richards. “Based on that, we (the commissioners) didn’t really know what all the needs were.”
In March, Union County released a request to nonprofits, utilities and municipalities asking why they might need the funds.
Richards said they are reviewing the requests to hopefully distribute a significant portion of their share of the ARPA money to those requests.
Richards said the commissioners looked internally to determine the special needs of county government departments.
“We are looking at applications as well as some future investments the county might make in its operations that would serve the entire county,” Richards said. “So far we have not allocated funding, but we are in the process of doing so.”
Union County commissioners have met in recent weeks to discuss the funds. They have until December 2024 to make their final decisions.
“But we know the needs are there now,” Richards said.
Richards said the commissioners’ intention was to distribute those funds by the fall and noted that a large portion of Pennsylvania’s state budget is tied to ARPA.
“The state legislature and governor have enacted the state budget which contains hundreds of millions of ARPA funds the state has received that can be allocated to communities,” Richards said. “We’re just trying to understand the flow of money and where the needs are.”
Commissioner Adam Ewig said Snyder County previously took similar approaches to Union County to distribute funds to nonprofits and other government entities that serve the county.
“We did it with CARES money in the first round of COVID dollars,” Ewig said.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) was signed into law on March 27, 2020 by former President Donald Trump.
Snyder County received approximately $7.8 million in funding from ARPA.
Ewig said a portion of the funds was for bonuses and incentive pay to retain Snyder County employees. This incentive compensation did not apply to elected officials.
Funds have also been allocated to make long-awaited updates to the county courthouse.
Ewig said a priority for the commissioners was to make improvements to the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to improve air quality.
“Our system is from the 1970s. That’s another project,” Ewig said.
Snyder County is working with an engineering firm to come up with designs to retool and rehabilitate what can be done to the building, according to Ewig.
“That’s where we’re at so far,” Ewig said.
Other projects are on the Commissioners’ priority list, but so far only HVAC system upgrades have been given the green light.
Ewig hinted that the courthouse project will not be a quick project.
“We kind of take our time with it,” he said.
Recreational options and improvements at Lake Faylor will also receive a portion of the ARPA money.
“Accessibility as well as facilities and better boating access,” added Ewig.
Ewig said the ARPA funds were considered a loss of revenue for Snyder County.
“It kind of freed up how it can be spent without all the stipulations,” Ewig said.
According to Commissioner Sam Schiccatano, Northumberland County is taking similar approaches to Union and Snyder counties.
Northumberland County received approximately $17 million. Schiccatano said the county is already giving money to municipalities through ARPA.
“We have already met with our 37 municipalities and the people qualified for the programs,” he said.
Schiccatano said the county opened ARPA funding to municipalities first, and about $5 million was distributed to municipalities for sewer, water, stormwater and stormwater management projects. storms.
Northumberland County has hired a Harrisburg-based company to assist the county with the application processes.
According to Schiccatano, the county needed to determine which projects were eligible for funding. Municipalities were required to provide matching funds to receive additional funds.
Schiccatano said the county plans to erect a new broadband tower in the southern part of the county.
Some of the money the county plans to use is $3 million to $4 million for tower issues, he said.
Commissioners will soon decide the fate of the remaining ARPA funding, and Schiccatano said they are considering projects for county-owned buildings and receiving estimates, including for its HVAC system.
“Some things have to be done,” Schiccatano said. “Most rooftop systems are out of breath. These are things that we look at and estimate.
He said if these projects were eligible for funding, it could save taxpayers money in the long run.