Sunday, October 2, 2022

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Graham, NC 27253
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County manager advises commissioners against sharing pandemic relief funds with nonprofit organizations

The latest meeting of Alamance County’s commissioners may’ve been a bit of a let down for any local nonprofit groups that have been eying the county’s larder of federal pandemic relief funds.

The prospect that external organizations might get a chunk of this cash was laid to rest Tuesday when Alamance County’s manager Heidi York briefed the commissioners on the county’s share of the money disbursed under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which President Joe Biden signed into law in March of 2021.

During her presentation that morning, York conceded that the federal government has recently discouraged the Rescue Plan’s beneficiaries from “subgranting” these funds – which, in Alamance County’s case, originally totaled just over $32.9 million.

Alamance County manager Heidi York

“So, if you were to start funding nonprofits, and subgranting those funds,” York went on to inform the commissioners, “it is highly likely that the funds would be clawed back by the U.S. Treasury.”

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This revelation about “subgranting” was nowhere in the wind this past November, when the commissioners held a public forum on the county’s multi-million-dollar windfall from the federal government. In fact, local nonprofit representatives were quite prominent among the nearly three dozen individuals who shared their ideas for how the funds should be distributed during the forum.

The county manager’s caveat about subgranting may have nevertheless been something of a moot point given that the county has already spent or encumbered most of its federal allocation.

York told the commissioners that, as of her presentation on Tuesday, the county had only about $13.2 million left of its original $32.9 million allotment. She reminded the commissioners that they had previously earmarked $2.8 million for HVAC upgrades and water and sewer lines at a proposed emergency services training center in Green Level. She also noted that another $381,201 has been set aside to match state-level grants for broadband infrastructure, while $7.5 million has been used to supplant various expenses in the county’s two most recent annual budgets.

York added that the commissioners have taken another $10 million out of the pot by designating it to replace revenue that the county theoretically “lost” due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although, on balance, the county’s revenues have actually risen since the pandemic began, state and federal guidelines have allowed it to claim a “standard deduction” of $10 million, effectively shifting those funds into the county government’s savings.
As for the $13.2 million that has yet to be spoken for, York suggested two large-scale expenditures that would essentially deplete those funds in their entirety.

York encouraged the commissioners to earmark $12 million of the county’s remaining cache to purchase a facility that local developer Chad Porterfield has begun to construct in Burlington to serve as a “diversion center” for mentally-ill individuals who may otherwise end up in Alamance County’s jail [See separate story this edition]. Under an agreement that the commissioners approved later that morning, the county will be able to buy this facility only after leasing it for 25 months for a cumulative sum of about $4 million in lease payments.
York also urged the commissioners to set aside another $1 million in pandemic relief funds to cover a portion of the cost for a new EMS substation near Mebane. She added that the remainder of this project’s budget of $3,240,000 is already accounted for in the county’s capital improvement plan.

York didn’t offer any suggestions for the remaining $200,000 or so in the county’s pandemic relief cache. But she did recommend a way to disperse the $10 million that the county has banked as “lost revenue” replacement.

The county manager encouraged the commissioners to put some of this revenue toward a plan to redevelop the criminal justice complex that dominates the 200 block of West Elm Street in Graham. York conceded that these funds won’t cover this project’s entire budget of $98.8 million, although she added that she and her colleagues are trying to “right-size” that number to keep it within the county government’s means.

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