Ravalli County Commissioners are considering how best to spend the $8.5 million that has already been allocated to the county under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for reimbursement for negative impacts related to COVID-19. The funding can be used to cover eligible expenses incurred between March 3, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
Chief Financial Officer Klarysse Murphy told the commissioners that the biggest concern at the moment is getting on the computer portal and registering for the funds. She said they were working with state officials to get though several phases involved in accessing the funds and that currently they were still working on a very general level in terms of what expenses would be eligible for reimbursement based on an Interim Final Report. She said the “final” final report probably won’t be out until mid-June.
Initially, the eligibility list includes expenses related to public health emergencies due to the pandemic and negative economic impacts related to COVID-19 including premium pay for employees doing essential work during COVID-19 and provision of government services experiencing a reduction in revenue due to COVID-19 as well as needed improvements to water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Murphy acknowledged that right now they were still in a highflying overview stage concerning the eligibility questions but that they had time to consider things and wait for the details to roll in.
“The money is there,” she said “We can ask for it today. We can ask for it two months from now. The pot is there, and it is not going away.”
According to Murphy, all county employees are considered essential under the program and premium payments made to the employees during the period could be reimbursed. But pension funds cannot simply be propped up with the funding. Murphy also noted that the funds are not just for county operations but for county-wide expenses and other essential employees may be covered by awarding grants to eligible private businesses, such as people working in food production facilities, grocery stores, janitors, sanitation workers, truck drivers and warehouse workers.
“There’s a lot out there that falls under this,” said Murphy.
Murphy also cautioned the commissioners that trying to figure out the county’s lost revenue related to COVID-19 would probably not be cost-effective. She said it would probably cost more to figure it out than they would get back because the formulas involved are so “crazy and ridiculous” with their backward and forward projections.
The county’s first deadline in the process is a report due on August 31.