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Schuylkill County News

Padora, Hess Ask for Itemized Report on Schuylkill County ARPA Spending

The new Commissioner appeared underwhelmed by the quarterly spending update he just received.

Last week, one of the Schuylkill County Commissioners’ hired consultants (getting paid at least $275 per hour) delivered his quarterly report on spending as it relates to the approximately $26 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the County received starting in 2021.

Mark Morgan, of Susquehanna Accounting and Consulting Solutions, spoke for exactly 41 seconds to update the Commissioners on the ARPA spending in the fourth quarter of 2023.

He also provided the simple text report shown below:

Schuylkill County ARPA spending 2023 fourth quarter

Morgan detailed the ARPA money that went to ongoing projects in the last 3 months of 2023:

  • 9-1-1 Hegins Tower Project: $251,209.60
  • Cybersecurity Project – MIS Dept: 62,477.60

Morgan also noted that Schuylkill County only claimed $4,273,789 in so-called “lost revenue” from ARPA in 2023 even though the formula used to determine “lost revenue” per the federal Treasury Dept. rules on ARPA spending allowed the County to claim up to $8,286,275.

That $4.2 million was presumably used to plug a budget shortfall for 2024.

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Schuylkill County ARPA Spending: Details, Please

The succinct nature of Morgan’s report seemed to catch Schuylkill County Commissioners Chairman Larry Padora off guard, or at least wanting more. Commissioner Gary Hess, too.

Hess told Morgan that he’d like to see a report listing what ARPA money has been used to purchase thus far and what’s left of that money.

Padora echoed that remark.

“I would like an itemized report on where everything was spent,” Padora said, adding he would like to also know how much of that ARPA money remains.

A lot of people would love to see that report and more transparency overall when it comes to ARPA spending at Schuylkill County Courthouse.

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The issue with that comes from the fact that the Commissioners, based on the way they’ve handled it so far, typically spend money first and then figure out what of their spending qualifies for ARPA-qualifying expenses.

The Canary has asked numerous times in the past for a detailed breakdown of what’s been purchased using ARPA money and how much of it is left. We’ve been somewhat stunned by the fact that no one really seems to know, at least not off-hand, or can’t even ballpark a figure to answer that question.

A call from The Canary to Morgan prior to last week’s Commissioners meeting was not returned.

Can’t See the Forest Through the Trees, Or Something Like That

Now, the County does get quarterly updates like the one delivered last week, but they’re always without the context of the big picture on ARPA funds.

Commissioner Boots Hetherington reminded his colleagues that Morgan has advised the board on how to spend that money over time.

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“Mark was very adamant early on about not jumping out like drunken sailors and throwing this money away,” Hetherington said.

He said the Commissioners, in the past, heeded that advice, particularly when it came to ponying up ARPA dough to pay for the “broadband project” that’s been talked about on and off for close to 4 years but has hooked up exactly 0 people with better internet.

Hetherington said if the Commissioners had approved spending ARPA money on the broadband project, they would have been on the hook for 75% of the cost. Instead, they chose to defer to a task force run through the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce.

That task force has chosen to get Schuylkill County more connected with high-speed internet through a single supplier, Comcast, and the County is supposedly spending no money on it.

Instead, Hetherington bragged, the Commissioners approved using ARPA funds for that “Hegins Tower Project” to establish better emergency radio connectivity in western Schuylkill County.

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“For as much pressure as we had, we decided as a group to go ahead with the 9-1-1 tower, which I thought was the right move,” Hetherington said.

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  1. Val

    January 29, 2024 at 12:36 pm

    It sounds like Commissioner Hess, aka the Good Commissioner, has been sleeping for all these years, but now is in to a rude awakening. Hopefully, both commissioners will get the info they’ve asked.

  2. Chris

    January 30, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    Glad to see Commissioner Padora jumping in and asking the right questions, right off the bat. Perhaps he is inspiring Commissioner Hess who seems to have newfound confidence in speaking up. Better late than never!

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