Park County and its municipalities are receiving more than $8.15 million in stimulus funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March, and now they’re trying to figure out how they’ll use it.
The money could lead to improved new roads, improved sewer facilities, and other infrastructure projects for the local communities.
Park County is scheduled to receive $5.67 million, the City of Cody $1.49 million, Powell $943,000 and Meeteetse $50,000 through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Wyoming as a whole will receive $1.06 billion.
Although the county and local municipalities were notified of the total allotment they would receive in March, the U.S. Department of the Treasury did not issue an Interim Final Rule for the long-awaited guidance on the funds established under the ARPA until May 10. The Rule went into effect May 17.
Last week, the Park County commissioners got some direction on what they can do with the money at a Wyoming County Commissioners Association spring meeting in Rock Springs.
City finance officer Leslie Brumage said staff had been working to figure out what expenses the funds would be used for and planned to talk more with city council about it at a July 12 work session. She said there are some differences from early COVID-19 funds.
“It’s really more designed to help cities that run social service programs, not cities our size,” she said. “We’re having discussions on how best to use funds.”
Mayor Matt Hall said it was good to wait until the next budget cycle to discuss ARPA – the proposed budget does not include any revenue from the new federal funds.
“I think we’ve got to be real patient with what we use those for,” he said.
Park County Commissioner Dossie Overfield agreed with Brumage in that many of the eligible uses of the funds seem targeted toward higher population areas.
“There’s still a lot more questions than answers,” Overfield said. “We just started trying to figure out what to use the funds for.”
More pertinent to Park County, however, is local funds can be used to invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure and what is described by the U.S. Treasury as “capital investments in public facilities to meet pandemic operational needs.”
Overfield said she was told the last stipulation could include roads and even more specifically bridge projects.
She said funding could be used to leverage projects through matching grant-type programs. However, the second round of road construction through the Federal Land Access Program for another South Fork Highway rehabilitation project, slated to begin in 2026 or 2027, may be too far off in the future to utilize. Park County is expected to pay $2.1 million for that project, while the remaining $12 million will be paid by the federal government.
Another likely source of need is the Park County Sewer Lagoons, which were designated over the last year for expansion due to critically high surface levels.
“It’s absolutely something we’re looking at,” Overfield said.
Angie Johnson, clerk and treasurer for the Town of Meeteetse, said the municipality has a number of sewer and sidewalk projects the funds could be used toward but “in the grand scheme of things is pretty small.”
The county is planning a joint work session with the municipalities next week to discuss ARPA. Overfield said municipalities can team up with the county to fund joint projects.
Local governments will have until 2024 to decide what they will do with their allotted funds and until 2026 to spend them.
The funding can also be used to support public health expenditures by funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral health care, and certain public health and safety staff.
Over the last budget cycle, Park County incurred $910,645 in COVID-19 public health costs, of which $155,000 were already reimbursed through direct public health COVID-19 grants and funds.
It also received roughly $1.6 million in funding under last year’s CARES Act, and used most of that to pay the regular salaries of workers who were impacted by the pandemic, as well as an additional $384,518 for sanitation and technology expenses.
The county now has four more employees than it did at the same point last year.
Park County still hasn’t finished off its annual budget numbers for this year. Treasurer Barb Poley said the county is only down about 1.2% on year-to-date sales and use tax revenue, but is down more than 40% for lodging tax revenue. Poley budgeted for a severe economic downturn last June, but that recession never fully materialized thanks to a strong fall tourist season a booming housing market, and rapid population growth. In April, Park County had a 5.1% unemployment rate, a full percentage point below the national average of 6.1%.
Overfield said the county has not yet been told whether it has to accept the full $5.67 million amount. The county was eligible for $3.1 million in funding in 2020 but only requested about $1.4 million in reimbursement funds as the commissioners decided their staff wasn’t fully occupied with the pandemic.
“I don’t think it was necessary to blanket this much dollars as they did,” she said. “It’s a moral dilemma.”
No money has been received in Wyoming yet and no decisions have been made regarding which projects will be pursued on a local level. The City of Cody is expecting the first half of expenditures to hit Wyoming by June, with the second half coming in 2022.
Poley said the county can use funds to pay an additional employee to manage the money received, a move she would recommend.
The ARPA funds can also be used to address:
• Negative economic caused by the public health emergency including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries and the public sector
• Replacing lost public sector revenue impacts
• Providing government services to cover lost revenue experienced due to the pandemic
• Providing premium pay for essential workers
• Offering additional support to those who have borne and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.
(Zac Taylor contributed to this report)