Commissioner decries $33M that county is slated to get in federal pandemic relief

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The prospect of additional pandemic relief from the federal government has set off a positively feverish response in one member of Alamance County’s governing board.

Commissioner Pam Thompson became downright apoplectic last Monday when county manager Bryan Hagood briefed her and her colleagues on the county’s anticipated haul from the so-called “American Rescue Plan,” a nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus act that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month.

“It’s like this giant fairy that keeps flying through the sky just throwing money out,” she declared. “There is no such thing as flipping free money. I’m not going to get on a broom – oh, yes, I am…It just ticks me off that we’re already jumping like we’re foaming at the mouth to figure out how we can spend this.”

A former school board member who joined the county’s all-Republican board of commissioners last fall, Thompson called on her fellow commissioners to decline the proffered federal funds, which the Democratic President signed after its passage without the support of a single Congressional Republican.

“It’s like this giant fairy that keeps flying through the sky just throwing money out.  There is no such thing as flipping free money. I’m not going to get on a broom – oh, yes, I am . . . it just ticks me off that we’re already jumping like we’re foaming at the mouth to figure out how we can spend this.” – County commissioner pam thompson

Thompson’s eruption followed the county manager’s announcement that Alamance County tentatively stands to receive $32,875,227 from this federal stimulus act – which is the latest in a series of federal revenue injections since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last March. Hagood noted that, unlike previous infusions of federal pandemic relief, the county expects to receive the forthcoming outlay directly from the federal government without any intervention from state-level officials. He added that, according to the National Association of Counties, the first half of these funds should materialize within the next 60 days while the remainder is expected to arrive about a year later.

“It is possible that we may get this money before we get the guidance [on how to use it],” the county manager conceded. “I think we need to pretty soon develop some priorities for this…This is a significant amount of money for the county government to receive and not have a tangible plan.”

Hagood went on to share four broad categories of uses that the county will apparently have for these funds. He said that the National Association of Counties describes one of these potential areas of outlay as responses to the current public health emergency, while another category concerns “premium pay” for both county workers as well as their private sector counterparts who are “performing essential work.” Hagood said that the county may also be able to use the money to supplant revenues that have fallen due to the pandemic and to pay for improvements in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Hagood cautioned that the county will eventually receive further instructions on precisely how it can spend the relief funds within the aforementioned broad categories.

Hagood proposed a talking group to set priorities for these funds and determine how the money should be disbursed. Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance Commissioners, chimed in to add that this committee should double check that the county isn’t using its share of the funds to reduplicate something that’s already being covered by other allocations of coronavirus relief. He also admonished the county’s departments and agencies not to allot any of this revenue to discretionary positions on their respective staffs.

Thompson, meanwhile, exhorted her fellow commissioners to do the “honorable” thing and foreswear the county’s share of the federal stimulus. Thompson went on to complain about the presumed lack of accountability in the federal government’s disbursements. This objection prompted commissioner Bill Lashley to assure Thompson that he’ll personally account for every penny the commissioners receive from the feds. In the meantime, Craig Turner stressed the restrictions that will inevitably accompany the funds.

“This is a lot of money,” he conceded, “and this is going to come with some severe handcuffs on what we can spend it on.”

In the meantime, Carter reflected on Hagood’s allusion to broadband infrastructure as a potential use of the stimulus funds. The board’s vice chairman observed that the provision of broadband web access had been a priority of Alamance County’s government even before the coronavirus pandemic threw the gaps in high-speed Internet service into higher relief.

“It’s going to be really difficult for us to find that money someplace else,” he added.

Hagood went on to inform the commissioners that the county will have until December of 2024 to deplete the funds it receives under the latest federal stimulus act.