County keeps ARP funds in reserve

After 15 months, Bartholomew County government has finally received all the money allocated to it from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

With the final distribution of $8,136,545 now in the county’s coffers, the amount of federal COVID-19 relief funds received since May, 2021, amounts to $16,273,089, county auditor Pia O’Connor said.

Since local government first began receiving this money, O’Connor and her staff have been required to submit a summary of revenue and expenditures every three months. The following financial information, which reflects second quarter 2022 activity, will be submitted to federal authorities by the end of this month, the auditor said.

Early last year, the county learned they would be allowed to recoup a lump sum of $10 million for revenue losses without submitting a detailed accounting of those losses. At the end of June, there was still $6,972,334 left in this category that have not been spent.

Expenses paid out from April through June include a payment of $40,370 for new sanitary sewers, electrical pedestals and upgrades at the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds. Work on the project, which is expected to cost a total of $629,180, should be completed by March, 2023.

The county also has paid $32,865 toward a $1.3 million upgrade of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Bartholomew County Jail.

The only complete purchase made during the second quarter with ARP funds was for a new van for the nursing division of the Bartholomew County Health Dept., O’Connor said. Her report also indicates that $472,500 has been allocated to reimburse certain nonprofits for their revenue loss.

Prior to the second quarter, federal funds had been used to purchase a new headquarters for the nursing division of the Bartholomew County Health Dept., as well as for establishing vaccine clinics and bonuses for county workers who placed themselves at risk during the initial COVID-19 crisis.

Other approved projects include park improvements ($1 million), township assistance ($1.2 million), rural fire departments ($1.5 million) and countywide broadband service ($4 million).

The county still has $12,529,658 — or nearly 70% of it’s ARP allotment remaining. However, many of these funds will be used to pay off the balance of approved expenditures. The county generally doesn’t make full payment to a vendor or contractor until a project is completed to their satisfaction.

County officials are not under any pressure at this time to spend the ARP funds quickly. The federal government requires only that contracts must be in place by the end of 2024, and that the money is spent by the end of 2026, O’Connor said.

Bartholomew County government is limited to the following general areas in spending American Rescue Plan funding:

  • To respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts. This could include assistance to households, small business, nonprofits, or to aid impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.
  • To respond to workers performing essential work during the public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of Columbus, Bartholomew County government, and non-entitlement units of local government. The funds could also provide grants to certain employers who have eligible workers who perform essential work.
  • For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue to Columbus, Bartholomew County government, and non-entitlement units of local government, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. This provision would be relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the local governments.
  • To make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure as approved by the U.S. Treasury.

However, the county is prohibited from using this money to lower taxes, to increase pension funds or finance general county government expenses.