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Decisions loom for Amherst officials in American Rescue Plan spending
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Decisions loom for Amherst officials in American Rescue Plan spending

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Amherst County and town officials are targeting ways to spend millions in federal money distributed from the American Rescue Plan Act, replacing “lost revenue” during the pandemic and considering projects.

Amherst County’s projected revenue loss from the pandemic as of Dec. 31 was $718,358, according to a report to the county’s board of supervisors. The county’s total ARPA funding is $6.1 million and $1 million of that is set aside for the Amherst County Service Authority in water and sewer improvements. The board voted during its Sept. 7 meeting to authorize the $1 million for the authority as well as $120,000 in combined premium bonus pay for the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office and public safety personnel.

With more than $2 million targeted for ongoing broadband expansion efforts and $75,000 in combined expenses for personal protective equipment, unemployment and other expenses related to COVID-19, the county would have $2,488,501 in remaining money, according to the report.

Possible spending measures staff is recommending to the board include funding a new building inspector position for three years, a new full-time marshal for three years, a dog park in Madison Heights, a campground at Mill Creek Lake, improving security at the Amherst courthouse and adding a fire alarm, resurfacing the parking lot at the courthouse and sheriff’s office, a grant coordinator position, a public safety command center and training console and other playground enhancements at county parks and libraries.

“It’s a whole lot of money to spend in a short time,” Vice Chair David Pugh said.

The county and Town of Amherst must have contract commitments in place by the end of 2024 and all stimulus money must be completely used by the end of 2026, according to officials.

Pugh said recurring costs associated with adding positions that would extend beyond the stimulus period scares him.

“We’re trying to give you our collective wisdom on where we see ourselves hurting the most and needing the most help first,” County Administrator Dean Rodgers said of the staff recommendations that may not reflect the board’s priorities.

Rodgers said some of the personnel requests would come before the board during the 2022-23 fiscal year budget planning process early next year.

Supervisor Jimmy Ayers said he favors the county looking into using some of the money to help local youth sports organizations facing financial difficulties during the pandemic.

“They provide quite an asset to our community youth,” Ayers said. “We need to keep them in mind.”

Pugh agreed with Ayers and added he feels the board should use the stimulus to focus on the capital improvement plan, which typically tackles one-time projects that are backlogged years in some cases, and that would put less strain on the county’s unobligated general fund and county taxpayers.

“I’m of the opinion the more we can knock off the CIP in the coming year the better off we will be,” Pugh said.

Amherst County Public Schools has received $7 million and plans to use a large portion of that federal money for an addition and renovation at Amherst County High School.

The Town of Amherst will get $2.2 million in ARPA money. The first installment of $1.1 million recently was received and the second half set for next year, according to Town Manager Sara Carter. The revenue loss calculation for the town in 2020 was just more than $226,000.

Town Council recently agreed to purchase a lift vehicle and a police vehicle from the revenue replacement money, leaving a remaining balance of $156,926, according to Carter. She recommends using remaining money to be applied toward salaries for town police officers. The first installment has $904,830 remaining and town staff recommends items for council’s consideration that include sludge dewatering equipment, relocation of water and sewer lines behind the Ambriar shopping center and water line replacements for several areas of town.

Mayor Dwayne Tuggle has tasked council’s utilities committee with prioritizing utility projects and bringing recommendations forward.

Councilwoman Janice Wheaton during council’s Sept. 8 meeting asked if premium pay for essential workers could include grocery store employees exposed to the virus. Carter said determining eligibility for such workers would be a complicated task. She said the premium pay for the town’s staff could only go to police officers based on staff’s understanding of the law.

“Well that would be a start,” Wheaton said. “I’m sure they could use it.”

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