While members of the Marshall County Council unanimously approved the joint resolution adopting a plan for the distribution of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds on Monday, there was some contention.
County Auditor Julie Fox told council members, “As a county, in order to continue to receive this federal funding we have to have a plan submitted to the federal government by April 30th.” She went on to say, “It (the plan) allows for flexibility of payments for different things that are targeted, that were set out in the American Rescue Plan.”
Councilman Heath Thornton and a member of the ARP planning committee explained that the plan has no designation of the amount of funds to be spent, it only identifies the areas where the county anticipates spending the funds.
The resolution states in section two that the county’s plan for the distribution of funds includes the replacement of lost county revenue. Section three also includes funds for water, sewage, and broadband infrastructure projects while section four makes funds eligible for local not-for-profits to replace lost revenue.
The joint resolution also allows that the plan may be amended to comply with the ARP fund requirements.
Councilman Tim Harman asked for more information about the committee’s discussion on the million dollars of ARP funds for broadband. The committee is made up of three County Council members: Heath Thornton, Jesse Bohannon, and Steve Harper along with Commissioner President Kevin Overmyer. He was concerned there was a lack of in-depth discussion of allocating $500,000 to Marshall County Fiber and Surf Broadband, two for-profit companies. He wanted to know the number of additional homes that could be serviced with the broadband funding. Councilman Thornton said the funding will allow the companies to provide services to various rural areas faster than without the funds. Thornton said the high-speed internet access will have a positive economic impact.
Councilmember Jesse Bohannon said the rules of spending the APR funds were recently changed to allow governmental agencies receiving less than $10 million the ability to use the funds for general governmental uses including lost revenues. He said because the rules had changed so significantly the county should have gone back and started from scratch and he proposed keeping all of the $8.9 million for the county due to inflation costs.
Councilman Harman asked about the proposed dollars being recommended by the commissioners for the clocktower. He asked if the project was asking for an additional half million. Thornton said the commissioners were trying to share the funds and allow that half million to be used for other uses in the general fund.
Councilman Harman asked for clarity that the resolution does not tie the council into any type of appropriation going forward. He had heard of the commissioner’s recommendation of appropriating about $6 million at their meeting last week.
Councilman Jon VanVactor also reminded members that they had given Highway Superintendent positive support for spending $1 million on equipment during Monday’s meeting. He said, “That is our only obligation so far.”
Harman said when he looks at the $9 million a lot of it looks like “bonus money,” or flexible dollars that could go towards roads. He stated he wanted to see at least $6 million of the ARP funds for roads.
Councilman Thornton explained that the commissioner proposed $3 million for the County Highway Department last week. He also noted that there is over $2 million still available for spending.
When Council President Mandy Campbell called for a vote it was 7 to 0 in favor of the resolution creating the county’s ARP Plan.