Pierce County will receive $8.3 million in ARPA funds

Posted 2/22/22

Committee tasked with choosing eligible projects As the Pierce County American Rescue Plan Act Adhoc Committee works to decide how to spend the $8.3 million it will receive, it wants project …

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Pierce County will receive $8.3 million in ARPA funds

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Committee tasked with choosing eligible projects

As the Pierce County American Rescue Plan Act Adhoc Committee works to decide how to spend the $8.3 million it will receive, it wants project submissions from the public. At the present time, it looks like broadband expansion is a main contender on the list.

The committee, which last met Tuesday, Feb. 15, has until Dec. 31, 2024 to appropriate funds to eligible, approved projects. According to the county ARPA website, “The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds deliver $350 billion for state, local, territorial and Tribal governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and lead a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery.” As part of this effort, Pierce County will receive $8,304,463 for local, eligible initiatives that fall within four key eligible use categories as defined by the U.S. Department of The Treasury.

Key objectives of the funding include: •Fight the pandemic and support families and businesses struggling with its public health and economic impacts •Maintain vital public services, even amid declines in revenue resulting from the crisis

•Build a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.

County Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys said the county’s money will not be distributed all at one time.

“We’re not going to spend $8.5 million in one lump sum,” he said.

Even though the Committee has until Dec. 31, 2024 to decide how funds will be distributed, people are encouraged to submit eligible projects for consideration sooner rather than later. While the committee will stop accepting projects June 1, 2023, the money may all be awarded by then.

“The only caveat to that (the June 1, 2023 deadline) is, I would encourage someone who’s making a submission, the earlier the better. We will not wait until the deadline to pick all the projects,” Matthys said.

The county board will have the final say in which projects are picked (on recommendation from the ARPA

See ARPA, Page 3 ARPA

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Adhoc Committee), but choosing projects in “one fell swoop” would be too confusing, the committee agreed.

Those interested in submitting a project for consideration should go to https://www.co.pierce.wi.us/g overnment/public_notices/ind ex.php and complete the ARPA Request Form. People will be asked to provide the location of the project, a detailed description of the proposed project, projected costs of the proposed project, to identify if other funding sources will supplement the use of ARPA funds, and a summary identifying the longterm benefits of the project. Those interested in submitting a paper application can obtain one at the County Clerk’s office in the Pierce County Courthouse (414 W. Main St., Ellsworth).

Once a form is filled out, it automatically goes to Matthys’ email, and he sends it along to other committee members.

Current general projects under consideration are: 1. County revenue loss due to COVID-19 2. Essential worker premium pay – Public Health staff 3. Cyber security modernization and security audit 4. Small business grants 5. Discover Wisconsin – Showcase Pierce County 6. Broadband infrastructure in Pierce County 7. Prescott American Legion Post 61 requests for building repair funding 8. Housing for homeless citizens The committee debated how to best vet the applications, with cost, need and eligibility being main considerations. Matthys admitted it’s challenging to go through 440 pages of guidance to determine projects’ eligibility, and much of that responsibility falls to him.

“I would hate to get the county in the weeds for appropriating funds (to a project) that the Department of Treasury deems ineligible,” Matthys said.

Unfortunately, there are no designated individuals at the state levels to field those questions, he added. Pierce County Economic Development Director Joe Folsom, who spent much of his career navigating state bureaucracies, said he’d be glad to offer help in vetting eligibility questions.

Matthys said it might be best to evaluate requests on a case-by-case basis. Committee Chair Jon Aubart reiterated that evaluating submissions will be an ongoing process. No. 1 priority will be making sure a request meets the eligibility requirements. Then, timeliness, viability, the number of people benefited, cost and other aspects can be considered.

County Supervisor Kris Sampson (Prescott) believes considering the number of people a potential project could affect is an important consideration. County Treasurer Kathy Fuchs recommended adding that question to the form, along with asking applicants how their project fits into the ARPA eligibility guidelines.

“A project could cost $3 million but only affect 50 people,” Sampson said.

“We need to make sure we keep revenue loss in mind too,” Fuchs said. “The county could leverage some funds to lessen the tax levy or provide premium pay to help retain employees.”

Matthys said the county lost well over $1 million in revenue during the pandemic, maybe even closer to $2 million.

PCEDC requests

Folsom was on hand to present four requests on behalf of the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation.

1. $3.5 million in funding to support Wisconsin state broadband expansion grants for BevComm and Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services to provide fiber to the premises for unserved/underserved residents and businesses.

Four townships have committed $740,000 in ARPA funds to Pierce Pepin broadband expansion efforts, Folsom said. A feasibility study said broadband expansion in Pierce County to unserved/underserved people would cost about $32 million; of that amount, about two-thirds of the necessary funds have been received from state broadband expansion grants.

“The $3.5 million will help us fulfill a vision of getting broadband service to every business and home in the county,” Folsom said.

While BevComm has said it will get service to all its customers regardless of receiving ARPA funds from the county, though extra funds would be appreciated, Folsom said, most of the underserved territory is in Pierce Pepin’s area. Receiving the county’s commitment of ARPA funds helps strengthen applications for state funding, which is awarded on a points system.

2. Allocating $1.6 million to provide assistance in the form of low or zero-interest rate loans to COVID-impacted small businesses, nonprofits, tourism, travel, hospitality and other impacted industries Folsom proposed using this money to recreate a locally managed revolving loan fund that could provide gap financing to county businesses, industries and entrepreneurs. Pierce County had a revolving loan fund from 1997 to 2020. Currently, Pierce County businesses’ only access to revolving loan funds is through Mississippi River Regional Planning. Folsom said he’s fielded several requests in the past few weeks for gap funding sources and really has nowhere to send people.

Having a local revolving loan fund is a way to mitigate the risk and guarantee success, Folsom said.

3. $80,000 in tourism marketing for 2022-25 This would include contracted management of the Backroads of Pierce County tourism initiative and website, focusing on content creation, building a social media presence, advertising, photography and podcast development and creation.

4. $150,000 to provide technical assistance to COVID-impacted businesses and revolving loan fund management. The PCEDC is proposing to provide an additional level of focused technical assistance to small businesses, nonprofits, tourism, travel, hospitality and other impacted industries for 2022-25 Committee members seemed supportive of Folsom’s suggestions, especially the broadband expansion request. They requested Folsom provide a map showing today’s broadband (specifically fiber) footprint in the county in order to better identify unserved/underserved gaps.

Matthys said he’d received phone calls from Spring Lake and Rock Elm townships concerning broadband expansion grant possibilities for Select Communications, which serves that area. He also heard that AT& T is planning to expand its fiber south of Division Street in River Falls to the townships, though the exact area is unknown.

Folsom said March 11 is the deadline for state broadband expansion grants, and having public/private partnerships declared in the form of either promised funding or a resolution or proclamation supporting broadband is a way to make grant applications more competitive.

“Time is of the essence to create competitive applications for funds out there,” Folsom said.

The county’s Finance & Personnel Committee held a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22 (after The Journal’s press time) to vote on a resolution supporting broadband infrastructure expansion and availability in the county.

Aubart said he lives in the town of River Falls less than a quarter-mile from the city and he doesn’t have broadband service, which he admits is a struggle. County Supervisor Dean Bergseng (River Falls) agreed.

“I’m hoping broadband out in the rural areas is our No. 1 thing, our main focus,” Bergseng said. “Whether it’s BevComm or Pierce Pepin.”

Other proposals

Matthys also brought up three other proposals, none of which were voted on by the committee as more information is needed.

One is a proposed partnership with Chippewa Valley Technical College to offer GED, HSED and other educational support to people who are lacking these credentials. Funds could help offset the cost of completing these credentials, therefore helping to strengthen the county’s workforce. The funding could either help provide scholarships to people who want to earn their GED/HSED and go further in a tech school program, or help CVTC realize the dream of having a traveling “GED bus,” allowing campus staff to travel to outlying communities to address educational disparities.

CVTC’s foundation currently funds $250 scholarships for GED students. Matthys said the partnership wouldn’t be “an overnight fix” to area employment issues, but it could make a significant impact in the coming years.

“The county would benefit from an increased employment pool,” Matthys said.

Another project consideration is a dredging project at Nugget Lake, which has to be done no matter what, Matthys said. The impoundment was last dredged in 2007 at a cost of about $400,000. This time around, the project could cost more than $650,000 to have 33,000 cubic yards of sediment removed from the lake, which has become extremely shallow. If not done, the county’s lake will become a weedy swamp filled with sediment.

Matthys said he’s not sure the project would be eligible for ARPA funds, but it boils down to environmental remediation. COVID brought one of the park’s most profitable years because it offers a place for people to socially distance and recreate.

Lastly, Matthys presented an option for the county to partner with Discover Wisconsin to showcase unique areas of the county that people might not know exist. The cost would be about $60,000.

The committee will meet again in March, on the third Tuesday.