With some $ 624 million in federal money set to fall into West Virginia municipal and county bank accounts over the next few weeks, some of the state’s largest cities are forming advisory committees to identify projects to be funded, while others rely on internal staff. to select spending targets. Public announcements have already been made on priorities in parts of Mountain State.
But in Greenbrier County, officials are playing their cards closer to the waistcoat, brushing aside calls for “best guesses” and other speculation about which projects are most likely to find cash from the American Rescue Plan’s fountain of wealth. Act.
Asked whether Greenbrier officials would seek advice from residents or form an advisory committee like Charleston does, county commission chairman Lowell Rose joked, “We’ve already received 5,000 tips. “
Both Rose and Commissioner Mike McClung said they were inundated with suggestions from the proverbial “man in the street”. Neither saw the need for a public forum.
Refusing to speculate on how they might spend this latest round of federal pandemic relief funds, the commissioners aligned themselves with the leaders of the county’s two largest cities – Lewisburg and White Sulfur Springs – citing a lack concrete guidelines on how ARPA funds can be spent.
“No guidance has yet been received,” Commissioner Tammy Tincher said recently, noting that the National Association of Counties was working with the US Department of the Treasury to clarify details.
To further complicate the decision-making process, it is necessary to determine what additional money could be channeled in more targeted batches. No one wants to commit to spending ARPA funds on a project that may soon be funded through broadband or an education or health grant.
It’s about making the most of the money, and everyone is aware that a massive infrastructure bill is making its way to Congress.
Most counties and municipalities are expected to receive half of their ARPA allocation around May 10, with the other half being deposited 12 months later.
According to figures provided by Senator Joe Manchin’s office, Greenbrier County will receive $ 6.72 million in ARPA funding ($ 3.36 million this year and an equal amount next year), Lewisburg will receive 1.58 million dollars over the two-year period, and White Sulfur Springs will receive $ 980,000 over two years.
The mayor of White Sulfur Springs, Bruce Bowling, is not accepting anything from faith at this time.
“We don’t have the money yet, and we don’t have any guidelines on what we can spend once we get it,” he told the Register-Herald. “Once we get the money and the directions, we’ll make a decision on how to spend it.”
Lewisburg City Manager Misty Hill said her main concern at the moment was accessing federal funding from the CARES Act that the city is to receive. That funding, she said, is now being used to fund a new facade for town hall and synthetic turf for a youth ball field in Hollowell Park, among other projects.
Lewisburg City Council held a brief discussion on planned funding for ARPA at the April 20 meeting. But as that conversation centered on the possibility of applying those funds to a $ 610,566 street / sidewalk / stormwater project at the intersection of Chestnut Street and GMS Drive, Hill pointed out that such an expense was a long way off. to be decided.
“The project has been part of the city’s plans for so many years, it was on everyone’s mind,” she noted.
However, with the guidelines still being refined in Washington, Hill said there was no way of knowing for sure whether the GMS Drive project would eventually meet ARPA’s funding requirements.
“It’s very complicated,” she says. “At the last meeting I attended, the people in charge of the meeting were very strict in telling us that we have to be careful with this federal money.
She said the state auditor’s office has indicated that ultimately, it looks like only infrastructure projects – transportation, water and sewerage, stormwater, and possibly broadband – will be allowed to use. ARPA money.
This flies in the face of the text of the American Rescue Plan Act itself, which casts a relatively large net on potential expenses. As long as costs are incurred no later than December 31, 2024, government units may spend ARPA funds “to respond to the public health emergency (with respect to Covid-19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households and small businesses. and non-profit organizations, or aid to relevant sectors such as tourism, travel and hospitality. “
Hill said she expects to know more when she attends an ARPA meeting chaired by Senator Manchin in Beckley on May 21.
County officials said they were aware that the first installment of their ARPA funds must be used to cover budget losses attributed to the pandemic. In Greenbrier’s case, however, it’s a relatively small amount.
“The only items in our budget affected by Covid were hotel / motel taxes,” Tincher said.
In order to determine how much to fill, the Auditor’s Office told Commissioners that they should look at the hotel / motel tax figures collected in 2019 and calculate the deficit for the following year.
Greenbrier is also in a somewhat unique position in that the county has an active TIF (Tax Increase Funding) district in which many of its current infrastructure projects are located.
The TIF District of White Sulfur Springs in Greenbrier County is a geographic area which, in addition to the town itself, also encompasses the unincorporated community of Caldwell and other areas in and around the Spa Town. A TIF allows a government entity to set aside new property taxes that result from development in the district. These revenues are then used for local infrastructure and economic development projects.
Several such projects are already underway or about to start in Caldwell and White Sulfur, using FIT funds and therefore not in need of federal assistance.
Pressed to find out what type of project Greenbrier County could use its ARPA windfall on, Rose said an extension to Rainelle’s long-planned waterline at Charmco is a possibility. Before a decision can be made on funding for this project, Rose said, the county will need to check whether the state will provide funding.
While none of the three commissioners anticipate a collaborative project with one or more county municipalities, Tincher and McClung noted that such a project should be coordinated by the Region’s Planning and Development Council 4.
Other municipalities in Greenbrier County providing ARPA funding are (two-year totals shown):
• Alderson – $ 470,000
• Fall Spring (Renick) – $ 80,000
• Rainelle – $ 630,000
• Ronceverte – $ 690,000
• Rupert – $ 370,000
Funding totals are based on population. Small towns and cities (which are designated as ineligible units of local government) are also subject to a cap of 75% of the most recent budget as of January 27, 2020.
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