Covington County, local cities, towns to receive ARP funds

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Covington County, as well as local cities and towns, will be receiving funds from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act recently signed into law.

The stimulus plan calls for $350 billion be provided to state and local governments to assist in the recovery from budgets hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, Alabama received over $4 billion, which in part is being passed along to counties, cities and towns.

While specific rules regarding the use of the funds have not been announced, it is expected that officials will have the flexibility to replace revenue losses and cover costs from the pandemic. It is also anticipated that the funds could be used to invest in economic development, water, sewer, broadband infrastructure and government services. The funds cannot be used to replace net tax revenue losses caused by a change in law or for pensions.

Covington County is set to receive $7.19 million from ARP funds. According to County Commission Chairman Greg White, counties across the state are working to learn more about how the money can be spent.

“The Association of County Commissions of Alabama met yesterday to discuss the ARP funds and possible restrictions. Even though this is federal money, counties are still bound by state law and we are working with the Attorney General to guide us on what would be acceptable expenditures,” White said.

The first portion — approximately half — of the county’s funds could be in place within four to six weeks.

“We are hopeful that the commission will be able to use these funds for capital improvements. We have buildings, roads and bridges that could work. Hopefully, we’ll know more and can get the ball rolling in the next few weeks,” White said.

The City of Andalusia is expected to receive $1.61 million in ARP funds. Mayor Earl Johnson said the city will wait to dedicate ARP money until more guidelines are provided.

“The City of Andalusia has been very fortunate. Our revenues held well through the pandemic and are up again in the early part of the current year,” Johnson said. “That being said, the money is very welcomed to the city. We have a number of projects underway and more planned. We will spend the funds responsibly, and as in everything that we do, will try to get as much value for each of those American Rescue Plan dollars as is possible.

“We know that there are limitations on how municipalities can spend these funds, but the guidelines have yet to be published. The funds will be placed in the city’s General Fund until we know exactly how they can be expended.”

Opp Mayor Becky Bracke said her city weathered the pandemic well and did not see big drops in revenue. While some businesses closed temporarily, all of them have reopened their doors. Still, Opp’s expected $1.18 million in ARP funding will be put to good use.

“There are several ways we can use the money. We have roads that need work and we are working on a new sportsplex. We also need a new courtroom. It has always been too small, but that was especially true during the pandemic,” Bracke said.

Other local cities and towns set to receive funds include: Dozier, $60,000; Florala, $350,000; Gantt, $40,000; Heath, $50,000; Lockhart, $90,000; Red Level, $90,000; River Falls, $100,000; and Sanford, $50,000.

Along with local governments, ARP will also provide funds to K-12 school systems. An estimate of the amount Alabama schools could expect is over $2 billion. According to the Alabama Department of Education, at least 5 percent must be used to address learning loss, 1 percent for evidence-based summer enrichment programs and another 1 percent for comprehensive after-school programs. Other approved expenditures include expanding mental health services and repairing or improving facilities to reduce the risk of virus transmission and environmental health hazards. ALDOE can withhold up to 12.5 percent of the funding to use at its discretion.

Higher education emergency relief funds are also being made available with Lurleen B. Wallace Community College set to receive approximately $5.3 million. Of that amount, a minimum of $2.67 million must be used for student grants.

ARP is the third stimulus passed in Washington since the beginning of the pandemic. All three packages total approximately $4 trillion. ARP funds must be spent by 2024.