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Albemarle weighs uses for latest federal stimulus funds

Albemarle County is working out how to spend a portion of its American Rescue Plan money.

It’s not yet known exactly how much money the county will receive from the federal government, but Albemarle is estimating that it will get about $21 million. During a Monday work session, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors endorsed a county staff-recommended framework for how to spend the first $10 million.

Approximately $2 million would go toward economic development, $2 million to human services, $3 million to broadband and $3 million to help offset lost revenue and workforce stabilization.

“This is a proportional look of a general framework we can use to really help staff develop some programming and bring that back to the board [with] how we can potentially use this funding,” Albemarle CFO Nelsie Birch said.

Birch said they know the funding must be used by Dec. 31, 2024, but the county is still waiting on more specifics on eligible uses.

“I have not received word of when we should expect to receive the funding and the eligible uses … we don’t yet have the guidance that we need to make sure that we are spending the money as intended by the bill,” she said.

From $4 million under “economic vitality,” $2 million would go to human services-related efforts and $2 million to business support-related efforts, which could be used similarly to what the county did with previous federal money earlier in the pandemic when it gave out grants to businesses and nonprofits, depending on the current need.

At a previous meeting, the board decided to hold off appropriating a planned $3 million on broadband proposals to see if American Rescue Plan money could be used. Birch said that $3 million in the first round of ARP money could be used for broadband.

Previously, about $2.1 million from a reserve that was created when the county used federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 Coronavirus Relief Fund money to reimburse county public safety pay and an additional $1 million from the board’s strategic priorities reserve were earmarked for broadband.

“Our recommendation would be, let’s hold that back in that pandemic reserve for the time being, because … the pandemic is still going on, and we’ve almost depleted that entire fund, because we are holding resources back to be able to pay the bills from the vaccination clinic until we’re able to be reimbursed by the federal government through FEMA,” Birch said.

She said the other $3 million from ARP could go toward revenue offset, workforce stabilization or a mixture of both, “depending on how the regulations move forward and what is the need of our government as we look at this funding.”

Examples around workforce stabilization include rehiring for some of the county’s 18 frozen positions, higher raises and premium pay for emergency personnel.

“What I would recommend before we would entertain anything around ongoing cost from this money would be to show you the impact in a five-year timeframe,” Birch said.

Birch said county staff will bring a more detailed recommendation for ARP money to the board in June.

County staff also presented possible funding sources for board member priority projects, which supervisors supported.

Birch said the county does not yet have ARP guidance around capital investments. She noted that some of these projects had “critical” timing issues and they wanted the board to be able to make a decision on whether to advance certain projects with other funding.

The top capital projects were a master plan for land that is proffered off Berkmar Road, a site plan and environmental study for the Lambs Lane schools area, extending the Rio Road Corridor Study to the city line and broadband infrastructure.

A Berkmar site master plan and the Lambs Lane site plan were both recommended to have funding appropriated in July. County staff estimated the plans would cost $350,000 total.

“What we would recommend is that those two projects work in tandem, and there’s been some conversations with the leadership of the school division on this,” Birch said. “We would work to have our funding, the board’s strategic priority reserve, support the master plan at Berkmar, while the Lambs Lane site plan would be supported by schools funding, and they would work through their preparation process [and] both would come in front of the Board of Supervisors in July for appropriation.”

Extending the Rio Road Corridor Study would cost an estimated $100,000 and would come from the board’s strategic priority reserve as early as May. Broadband infrastructure funding could be appropriated in July from ARP money.

Birch said an appropriation for Western Park in Crozet will be coming to the board in May to use proffer funding for initial improvements.

Other projects — such as parks and recreation infrastructure, sidewalks in older neighborhoods and matching funds for high-priority capital projects — could potentially come out of future Capital Improvement Program funding or ARP money, staff said, but were not yet finalized.

Additional operating costs, such as legal support for a zoning ordinance review and stream health-related staffing, might be able to come from the general fund in fiscal year 2022, if there are revenue estimates, but they were not recommended for funding currently. Funding for the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau could potentially come from ARP money.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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