Schuylkill County government officials finally divulged some information about the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds they’ve already received and about to receive.
Until last week, during the Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting, the County hasn’t said much about the money. And it’s frustrated some who see a pattern developing here.
We’re not talking about chump change here. Schuylkill County is set to receive more than $27 million over the course of 2 years. It received a payment of about $13.7 million last year with another similar payment incoming later in 2022.
But of that $13.7 million, we’ve heard how the County has spent very little of it … we think.
Schuylkill County Divulges Some Info on Rescue Plan Spending
Last week, Mark Morgan, the County-hired consultant with Susquehanna Accounting & Consulting Solutions, updated Schuylkill Commissioners and the public on how the County has (and hasn’t) spent that $13.7 million.
Morgan also said he wanted to squash some misconceptions about the money he’s heard from public comments and the public, in general. He called some of the comments “absurd” during his presentation to the Commissioners.
He’s apparently responding to calls for the County to divert some of that ARPA largess to fund grants for businesses that have and continue to be affected by pandemic restrictions and fearmongering from the mainstream media, which is causing many people to resume the lives they had back in early 2020.
Morgan said the County hasn’t been able to do much with the money because the Dept. of Treasury only recently issued a Final Rule on how the ARPA funds can be spent.
CARES Act All Over Again
What Morgan is not considering is the public’s frustration with the County’s secrecy surrounding all the COVID-related relief funding it’s gotten since the start of the pandemic.
If you remember, early last year, County officials finally released information on how it spent about $12.7 million it got in CARES Act funding. And when that information came out, it only led to more questions, some of which remain unanswered.
Morgan remembers, surely. He gave that presentation and in it, reported that Schuylkill County spent more than $7 million of that money on employee salaries during 2020. The problem with that accounting is the fact that employee salaries are budgeted ahead of time and there was no need for the County to dip into CARES funding to pay them.
The County only spent a little more than $1 million funding a grant program to aid small businesses, non-profit groups, and municipalities. Originally that money was said to be coming from the CARES funds but in Morgan’s presentation, we learned that it actually came out of the County’s General Fund balance.
So, yeah, the skepticism and questions about the ARPA funds (more than double the CARES funding) are definitely warranted, especially since it’d been about 9 months since we got it and hadn’t heard boo since. Certainly, the only “absurd” thing about the money is that it took this long to hear how the County plans to spend it, or not.
So, Morgan admitted that Schuylkill County has spent $95,222 on what it’s calling “public health projects”. Some of that went to buying a bunch of air ionizing machines to be placed in County offices. That was done in lieu of a comprehensive HVAC upgrade.
The rest of that money was spent on upgrades to County offices inside the Children & Youth headquarters at the intersection of N. Centre St. and Laurel Blvd. in Pottsville.
That was it as far as details from Morgan’s presentation.
He also said that about $3.063 million was moved from ARPA funds to the County’s General Fund to compensate for “lost revenue” caused by the pandemic. Now, that “lost revenue” is not a calculation of how much the County has actually lost. Rather, it’s the result of a formula developed by the federal Dept. of Treasury, which dispersed ARPA funds.
Morgan said the County can and did move that money as a means of covering expenses so that it didn’t have to raise taxes. That, he said, is the main reason for the ARPA funding. Morgan said the money is mainly there to cover spending so that the government didn’t have to raise taxes and hinder the economic redevelopment needed to bring us back to the time before the government shut down businesses in response to the pandemic.
Now, with more than $13 million in the hopper and about $3.1 million somewhat accounted for, that leaves about $10.5 million left of the first ARPA installment plus the $13.7 million the County expects this year.
That’s a lot of money (about 88% of it unspent) and we’ve heard very little about how the County plans to spend it. We’re not sure how much “lost revenue” the County is going to claim from that fund.
And Morgan advised that it’s probably not prudent to commit large chunks of this funding to special projects but based on the spat between Commissioners Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage last week, we get the feeling Schuylkill County will be unveiling some type of broadband internet expansion plan with some of the money.
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