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County set to decide spending COVID-19 ARPA windfall

MONROE — Following months of meetings, research and fact-finding, a special county board committee will soon decide on a host of recommendations for how the county should spend more than $7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Helmed by county board chair Jerry Guth, the so-called ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Committee has been meeting since late February to consider proposals from throughout the county. It is made up of a geographically diverse group of officials and citizens selected to weigh the many proposals covering such areas a mental health and broadband connectivity.

The culmination of that work will be at a meeting set for 6 p.m. May 26, at which the committee will perhaps meet for the last time to make its recommendation to the County Board and its finance committee on how to spend the money.

“It’s been an exciting and very informative process,” said Corrine Hendrickson, one of the citizen committee members. “We’ve met with every county department and other (agencies) from across Green County.”

The money can generally be earmarked for a number of projects including to replace public revenue loss, public health, premium pay for essential workers, water and sewer work; and broadband access, according to Guth. 

Guth has said the county is “trying to get the biggest bang for the buck” from the extra federal funding and believes the committee has been detailed and thorough in its approach.

Once the ad-hoc committee makes its report it will forward it for review by the county finance committee, and then the full county board. The board can follow the committee’s recommendations in full or in part but Hendrickson said there has been a lot of effort put in to making the recommendations — those that help the county the most and fit the structure of the ARPA funding.

Hendrickson said that when you factor in ARPA funds given directly to municipalities, Green County will actually receive closer to $10 million.

In addition to Guth and Hendrickson, the committee includes Casey Jones, ARPA Ad Hoc Committee Vice Chair, Bekah Stauffacher, Bill Oemichen, Mark Mayer, Matt Sheaffer, Megan Leonard, and Roald Henderson. 

Non-voting advisory members include Andrea Sweeney, representing Green County finance; Arianna Voegeli, Green County clerk and Nikki Austin, of Green County Development Corporation.

Hendrickson said the grant is flexible, allowing officials to re-direct funds to priorities as needed and to evaluate programs midstream. The process was a very useful exercise when it comes to figuring out where unmet needs are in the county and what agencies and programs are available to meet them, Hendrickson said.

One example of that cited by Guth and Hendrickson is broadband, which can also be funded with other federal funds so if its funding goals are already met, that money can be redirected.  Hendrickson said an emphasis has been placed on programs that have attainable goals and measurable success for the long term.

“We’ve learned from this and they (agencies) have learned a lot from this,” she said. “We’re going to be able to reach a lot of people in our county, but the real question is if it will be enough.”

Officials are encouraging citizens to attend the upcoming meeting and to review the links on the county’s web site to supporting materials, including an overview of the ARPA law, community survey results and list of applicants for the program.

“It’s mind boggling how much information is out there,” said Hendrickson. “We want people to be involved. We also want to be accountable.”