Premium pay, tourism, public health: How Rowan County government has allocated American Rescue Plan funding

Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 20, 2022

SALISBURY — Since receiving half of the expected $27.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners has spent about $3.4 million so far and expects to spend a total of $5 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Commissioners received an update on ARPA funding during their annual planning work session on Tuesday afternoon.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act was passed last year to serve as a stimulus to help governments combat the pandemic, including the public health and economic impacts. Like other municipalities, Rowan County government had been wary of spending ARPA dollars while awaiting more final guidance from the U.S. Treasury on permitted uses of the money. The treasury earlier this month adopted its final rule on ARPA, which takes effect on April 1 and provides governments with broader flexibility to pursue a wider range of uses.

As a result of those final rules, about $10 million in ARPA can be spent with very few restrictions and $12.6 million can be spent with restrictions. Governments have until 2024 to spend ARPA funding.

Cautiously, commissioners had already decided to spend ARPA money on a number of projects. Here’s how it has been used so far:

Premium Pay — $2 million

Commissioners allocated $2 million to give each county employee $2,000 in premium pay for working through the pandemic.

The board also spent $44,132 to pay county employees who volunteered to work the Autumn Jubilee. The county did not require any employees to work the event due to COVID-19, but rewarded the 100 employees who volunteered by paying them at a rate of $60 per hour. The total cost of paying those employees was $165,560, but $121,248 was allocated from the general fund. If the county receives guidance that the entire Autumn Jubilee payroll cost can be covered by the federal funding, the county will reimburse the general fund.

COVID-19 control, public health — $700,000

The county spent funding on personal protective equipment, advertising for COVID-19 vaccinations and office renovations at the Department of Social Services for social distancing. A portion of funding was also spent to give premium pay to first responders who either are or may be in direct contact with a person infected with COVID-19. The per-pay-period amount is $153.20 for full-time employees and 10% for part-time employees. Commissioners recently extended the premium pay through June 25.

Tourism and Hospitality — $614,000

Rowan Tourism was the beneficiary of $614,000 in American Rescue Plan funding. The agency spent $350,000 to retire debt from the construction of the Salisbury Farmers Market space at the Railwalk Pavilion. The next $154,000 was disbursed to 11 businesses through Rowan Tourism’s Lodging, Arts and Cultural COVID Business Grant program. The 11 recipients (two bed and breakfasts, five hotels and four cultural arts organizations) had to demonstrate losses of at least 20% during the period of April 2020 to Dec. 2020 compared to the same time period from the year before. The 11 recipients showed losses of about $5.7 million total during that time. The final $110,000 disbursed to Rowan Tourism will be kept as reserve for future tourism programs, depending on the way the pandemic continues to shape the industry locally.

Post-Overdose Response Team — $123,000

Commissioners allocated $123,000 to fund the Post-Overdose Response Team through the end of June. Better known as PORT, the team works under the Health Department’s purview to stop opioid and drug-related overdoses in Rowan County. The team is adding a fourth member to help manage the influx of overdoses since the onset of the pandemic.

Potential projects

With about $22 million left to spend, commissioners have also identified several projects that could be paid for using ARPA dollars.

The county has set aside $1 million to be used to replace piping in homes in the Dukeville area that rely on water from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities’ Northeast Water System. Several homes on the system were found to have elevated levels of lead in drinking water and replacing the piping in those homes is an option. The county has also designated $1 million to Rowan-Salisbury School System for sewer and drain improvements. Another $400,000 has been designated to pay for water and sewer infrastructure to service the new dog wing at the Rowan County Animal Shelter.

The county has also set aside $95,000 for personal protective equipment. For the county’s community paramedics program, $600,000 has been set aside for heart monitoring machines and supplies. Another $1.9 million has been earmarked for frontline workers.

A committee composed of community members on Tuesday asked the Board of Commissioners to consider reserving $15 million in ARPA funding to help build or purchase a facility for a mental health and substance use disorder crisis center. After an hourlong conversation with committee members, the board did not commit to reserving the funds for the center.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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