by Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN – The work has begun to reduce a $22 million wish list down to the $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the county has left to spend.
The County Board’s Executive Committee has finalized their priority ranking of 22 spending proposals forwarded from six public/private ARPA task forces created by the county last summer.
The task forces forwarded proposals in six areas – affordable housing, behavioral health and crisis response, broadband development, childcare, transportation, and workforce development.
“It’s going to be tough,” Supervisor Edward Procek said of the process of narrowing the list. “All of these programs are needed – if you go out into the real world, they are all needed. They all have to be drilled into to make sure we get the best bang for the buck.”
That drilling, County Administrator Adam Payne told the committee, will be done by his staff and the finance director’s office.
“It will return to the Executive Committee for final action,” and a final recommendation to the full County Board, Payne continued. “We will take this all up after the (Tuesday spring general) election.”
The schedule is for the board to receive the final recommendation at their May meeting for referral to a second committee and final board action in June.
Committee members weighed whether priority should be given to spending on current programs and agencies or on new initiatives and projects.
Supervisor William Goehring said his thinking had changed to put emphasis on what is needed to keep current county operations funded adequately. He cited the need for more social service programs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact.
“We have a lot of wants here but do we really deal with needs,” Goehring asked. “There should be a way to determine how these programs will benefit the most number of people.”
Supervisor Robert Ziegelbauer countered that many of the proposals, such as $3.5 million to expand broadband access to underserved rural areas of the county, are important for many of his constituents.
Supervisors noted that the county can work with local municipalities, which also received ARPA funds, to leverage and increase funding for many of the proposals, such as broadband expansion.
Payne noted that the city of Sheboygan is unsure how much of its $22 million in ARPA funds will be available to partner with the county on several proposals.
The city has tentatively committed nearly $20 million of that total to needed wastewater systems upgrades.
Payne said the city is waiting to see if it can leverage federal and state grants to cover at least some of those costs, which would then free up more ARPA funds for other projects.
Committee members also said consideration should be given to whether proposals could be extended beyond two years and, if so, how they would be funded.
“We want to be sure that whatever we do is sustainable,” Procek said. “Otherwise, we have to plan for them to end so there can be a smooth transition and they don’t come back and say we need more money.”
“Some of these are like potholes, you can fill them in and move on,” Koch said of the proposals.
“All of these, as I envision it, are never going to go away. These programs need to be sustainable for the future,” Supervisor Henry Nelson, attending the committee meeting, commented.
“We’ll do our best to apply the guidelines you’ve just established,” to the process of winnowing the list, Payne told the committee.
Of the $22.4 million the county received from ARPA, it has already spent around $7 million on pay raises, bonuses and hiring efforts at Rocky Knoll and the correctional facility. That leaves roughly $15 million left to be allocated. The county has until the end of 2024 to spend the money under the ARPA rules.
The ARPA spending proposals, in order of highest to lowest priorities established by the Executive Committee, and the amount requested, are:
· Youth serving agency support – $1.079 million.
· Broadband access expansion funding pool – $3.5 million.
· Teacher recruitment, training and support – $466,965.
· Behavioral health and crisis response support and system navigation – $216,625.
· Mindful educator initiative training – $210,000.
· Countywide transportation study – $40,000.
· On-demand countywide transit service – $1.95 million.
· Existing home repair program – $1.5 million.
· Neighborhood social workers – $1.05 million.
· Support low-income and ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families and individuals – $2.044 million.
· Housing navigator services – $120,000.
· Early childhood educator support – $436,866.
· City of Sheboygan police and crisis co-response pilot program – $1.079 million.
· Child care startup and expansion grants – $668,995.
· Workforce and affordable housing program – $3 million.
· Down payment assistance program – $600,000.
· Financial literacy/sustainable programming – $135,000.
· Out-of-county public transportation – $582,000.
· Marketing/worker attraction campaign – $1 million.
· Community education driver program – $300,000.
· Workforce concierge/transition services – $355,500.
· Worker relocation package – $1.65 million.