Change in rules could affect how county spends $1.9 million in ARPA funds

Updated: Mar 24

MOUND CITY – A rule change for a federal grant may allow the Linn County Commission much greater latitude in how the commissioners would use those funds.

Commissioners up to this point have felt obligated under ARPA guidelines to use at least a portion of the $1.9 million in grant money to help bring broadband Internet access to underserved areas of the county. However, the rule changes might have them looking at other options.

Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission (SEKRPC) Community Liaison Taylor Hogue met with the commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 22, to discuss the “Final Rule” changes to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), and how it affects how the county can use the money.

Hogue said that, under the final rule, there were several changes to ARPA. However, there was one part that she thought was really important to talk with the commissioners about, and that was the revenue loss portion.

Hogue reminded them that when they first talked about that the county had to do a detailed calculation of revenue loss during COVID. At that time the commissioners did not want to consider that because they did not think that there was enough revenue loss to report.

Hogue said now counties can claim a standard allowance of up to $10 million. So, Linn County’s entire fund can just be assumed that it is lost revenue and can state that the county wants to take it into the lost revenue category.

Then it can be used for government services, which is anything that would traditionally be provided by a government service. She told them that would allow the county to take off some of the regulations that were placed by ARPA and then expands how the county can spend it.

“Previously if you needed to repair a road, that really wasn’t a possibility. But now if you need to repair a road, you just say, ‘We are taking our fund into lost revenue, and we want to repair this road with it because it is a government service,’” said Hogue.

Commissioner Danny McCullough asked, “So each time we take money out, what do we do?”

It’s a lost revenue, said Hogue, one time you elect that your fund goes to the lost revenue category. It stays in a separate fund, you still have to track it and justify your expenditures, and still report on it annually.

As far as the walking-floor trailer, is that available, asked Commission Chair Jim Johnson.

The commissioners have considered buying a walking-floor trailer to handle trash at the solid-waster transfer station near Prescott. Currently, garbage is dumped from trucks onto a concrete floor and pushed into a compactor with a skid-steer loader. The trailer would “walk” the garbage from the dumping floor and into the compactor without the workers at the landfill having to get close to the refuse.

If the county deems its funds as loss revenue and the government would generally buy this walking-floor trailer, you can buy it, said Hogue.

Hogue said she had not seen any county make a final decision yet, but it definitely allows the county to better serve the needs of your community.

Johnson asked how the county would go about the broadband as far as serving different areas?

She said the county can still do the broadband project if it wants. They recommend that the county still sticks with the speeds, and the unserved and underserved areas. But if the commissioners deemed the county’s funds lost revenue, and the commission wanted to move forward with the project, it could take some of those tougher restrictions off, Hogue said.

So if the county wasn’t getting a response to bids because of speed regulation, the commission could just say never mind how the county provides it and just provide it at these speeds that would be accurate for your area, she added.

Johnson asked if the county had to stay with fiber optic as far as that operation. He added that Starlink, a new company, has come out and his wife got it and she loves it.

Is there any way the commission can help the people in the county with that, asked Johnson.

If it is lost revenue, there are truly no regulations they can enforce as long as the county is providing a government service. The county still needs to procure appropriately. It still needs to go out for proposals said Hogue.

The thorough determinations would not be necessary like it would be otherwise.

Linn County Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower asked if there is a reason the county should not do this. Hogue replied from her perspective, there was not.

Starlink gives people an opportunity for faster Internet service in places where fiber-optic service is never going to go, said Johnson.

Commissioner Rick James said commissioners just needed to figure out what they want to offer.

Hogue told the commissioners that they had until Dec. 31, 2024, to commit the money and until Dec. 31, 2026, to spend it. But to declare that the county was taking the money as lost revenue, it had to be in the meeting minutes before April 1.

Hogue said she did not see any cons to taking the money as lost revenue. By doing that, there were less stringent reporting requirements.

James asked Hogue what she knew about the Building a Stronger Economy (BASE) grants.

Hogue replied that the BASE grants that are due on Feb. 28 changed some of their requirements on Feb. 16. Instead of just having a commercial piece, there can also be a residential piece.

She told them that the narrative portion of the grant was the easiest and the hardest part was the budget. She said that they were going to be highly competitive grants.

James said that he was hoping that some developers would learn about this, but it was probably almost too late to write the grant. This grant could also be used for infrastructure, including water distribution, other utilities and land acquisition.

Hogue pointed out that the ARPA funds could be match money to BASE and Community Development Block (CDBG) grants.

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