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by Charlotte Smith

The Bladen County Board of County Commissioners held a special called meeting on Monday, August 23, 2021, at the Bladen County Courthouse. The room was unusually packed with a crowd for a special called meeting. The meeting agenda was to discuss how to spend the American Rescue Plan Act funding. 

In total, the mother county will receive $6,355,865.00. This year the County received a little over three million dollars and will receive the remaining funds next year. 

With about 40 citizens as the audience, County of Bladen Manager Greg Martin presented a PowerPoint presentation to the commission about the funding. Martin explained the different names used for the American Rescue Plan Act Funds such as: ARP Funds, ARPA Funds, Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, CSLFRF CLFRF Fiscal Recovery Funds. 

County of Bladen American Rescue Plan Presentation given by County Manager Greg Martin

According to the United States Department of Treasury, funding is for relief to:

  • Support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control
  • Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs
  • Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses
  • Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic

The ARP Funds for each government is to meet local needs—including support for households, small businesses, impacted industries, essential workers, and the communities hardest hit by the crisis. These funds can also be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

County Funding for the American Rescue Plan

Martin went over five ARP allowable expenditures categories. The eligible uses Martin explained are as follows:

  • Support public health expenditures by funding COVID-19 mitigation effort, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and certain public health and safety staff. 
  • Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector.
  • Replace lost public sector revenue, using funding to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic.
  • Provide 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.
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand access to broadband internet.

Martin explained funds may be used “for payroll and covered benefits expenses for public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees, to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Commissioners Arthur Bullock and Michael Cogdell asked if the funds could be used for nonprofit groups and private businesses. The answer Martin gave was no, but the local government may contract with nonprofits as sub-recipients to spend ARP funds for an ARP-eligible purpose that the local government has statutory authority to undertake, but the contract must comply with state law and federal Uniform Guidance. 

Bullock also asked if the funds could be used for radio and communication. The answer is the State law provides broad authority for a local government to contract with a private entity to perform specific activities that the local government has statutory authority to undertake. 

The Treasury has published an Interim Final Rule that implements the provisions of this program. However, during the meeting, Martin and County Commission Chair Charles Ray Peterson stated that the rules on spending the funding had not been finalized, and the local governments need to wait for final guidance and State guidance. 

Rules and Regulations for Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds

One audience member asked to speak, and others whispered questions about how information about the funding would be advertised and if the funding would be allocated to businesses equally throughout all ethnicities. Peterson explained the agenda did not include a public comment section. The special called meeting was only for the commissioners to discuss plans on how to spend the ARP funds. Peterson addressed the concerned citizens by saying the commission board would schedule a public comment hearing during a regularly scheduled board of commissioners’ meeting, and concerned citizens could contact Mr. Martin with questions.

Public comments and questions regarding the ARP funding may be submitted to County Manager Greg Martin by email at gmartin@bladenco.org, in person at 201 East King Street in Elizabethtown, by telephone by calling 910 862-6700, or by mail correspondence to: 

Greg Martin, County Manager

County of Bladen

PO Box 1048

Elizabethtown, NC 28337

Commissioner Bullock asked if there would be an application for businesses and nonprofits to apply for funding. 

Martin said the County could offer an application process similar to the one used before when the County offered businesses Coronavirus grant funding. 

Another question asked was when the funds would be available for distribution. 

“This thing is evergreen and will continue to change,” Peterson said, “We’re trying to hit a moving target.” The reason for the meeting was to make plans for the funding but to wait for final guidance. According to Peterson, the funding may not be available for distribution until December 2024 because there is no set time. 

Commissioner Dr. Ophelia Munn-Goins asked if current county funds could be used to help people in need now, and then when the ARP funds are available for distribution, the County could refund the county funds used.

Martin said, “The county can appropriate funds, but we don’t want to create a cash flow issue.”

Commissioner Cogdell posed a question about how to ensure the county funding expenditures didn’t duplicate the funding expenditures of the local municipalities. According to Peterson, measures would be put in place to ensure the County and the local municipalities did not repeat funding expenditures with the ARP funds. 

Before adjourning, the commissioners posted sticky notes with ideas on spending the ARP funding on whiteboards with the allowable expenditures. 

The full commission board was present except for Commissioner Mark Gillespie, who was excused due to an illness in his family. 

Watch the full meeting on the County of Bladen’s YouTube Channel linked below.

The County is also taking a survey about broadband services. See the graphic below to take the survey.

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