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Commissioners consider ARPA funds

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | April 8, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County commissioners will soon decide how to spend federal funds for COVID-19 relief — or whether to use the money at all.

The county has been allocated a $32 million share of federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

The funds are to be used for the direct or indirect response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the county's ARPA Task Force presented its final recommendations on how to spend the funds to the Board of County Commissioners.

Read the full report at www.kcgov.us/997/American-Rescue-Plan-Act.

The county received about $99 million in requests for funding — more than three times what the rescue funds can cover.

The task force adopted an evaluation plan to define the process used to make recommendations, then scored the eligible projects based on that metric. From there, the projects were further assessed.

Of the 44 eligible projects, the task force recommended that 13 receive full or partial funding:

• Kootenai County BOCC: Addition to Justice Building — $22 million

• Kootenai County BOCC: Admin Campus HVAC — $2 million

• Kootenai County Prosecutor: Family Justice Center Study — $175,000

• Kootenai County Coroner: Mobile Morgue Trailer — $6,000

• Kootenai County EMS: Ambulance Purchase Needs — $1 million

• Kootenai County EMS: Reimbursement of COVID-19 PPE & Misc. Expenses — $14,000

• Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office: Jail Generator Upgrade — $550,000

• Kootenai County Buildings & Grounds: Juvenile Detention Center HVAC

• Children’s Village: Premium Pay for Non-Executive Staff — $291,000

• On Site for Seniors: Operational Costs — $125,000

• CDAIDE: Direct and Staffing Costs for Care Program — $50,000

• Wellspring Meadows: Direct Care Retention and Sign-On Bonuses — $332,000

• IT Department: Cybersecurity and Data Backup — $500,000

The task force recommended the county spend a little more than $27 million of the available $32 million, setting the rest aside for future waves of COVID-19 or additional requests.

Commissioner Bill Brooks said he disapproved of spending $22 million in federal funds on an expansion to the county’s main campus, where the Justice Building is located.

The expansion would add three courtrooms, as well as a secure detention area and office space for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, district court employees, prosecutors and other county staff.

In its report, the ARPA task force said the additional facilities will enable the court to fully address the case backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BOCC first identified ARPA money as a possible funding source for the project last year. Other funding options include a general obligation bond, forgone taxes and an annual lease agreement.

“I said I would vote for anything $18 million or less if it were said to the public in a general obligation bond,” Brooks said Thursday. “Apparently that is not the direction the task force wants to go, so I can’t support this.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris addressed the commissioners at Thursday’s meeting, calling on them to allocate funds toward law enforcement.

“Public safety in Kootenai County to preserve our quality of life should be a priority,” he said.

KCSO reportedly requested a little more than $21 million in ARPA funds to be used for several projects, including equipping all county public safety personnel with new radios and completing two unfinished pods at the jail.

The project to complete unfinished pods at the jail, which would add more than 100 bunks to the facility, received the second highest evaluation score.

However, rules set by the U.S. Treasury reportedly prohibit using ARPA funds to expand jail capacity in response to an increased crime rate or a need for physical distancing.

The task force determined the project is likely to be disallowed by the U.S. Treasury.

Additionally, the task force found the $6.3 million radio project was disproportionate to its application to the COVID-19 response.

The task force did recommend spending $550,000 to replace the generator used to provide power to the Kootenai County Jail during outages.

Though the BOCC voted last July to accept the COVID-19 rescue funds, the commissioners have not yet voted on whether they will spend it.

Commissioners Leslie Duncan and Chris Fillios indicated Thursday that they’re both inclined to follow the task force’s recommendations, though they will first examine the 186-page final report.

The BOCC will spend at least a month considering the report before deciding on how — or if — to spend the rescue funds.

Use of the $32 million is available through Dec. 31, 2026.

After that deadline, any unspent funds will be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

photo

Kootenai County residents gathered Thursday for a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, where the group received recommendations on how to spend COVID-19 relief funds. KAYE THORNBRUGH/Press

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