County staff ideas for spending federal money already more than available – and that doesn’t even include public’s ideas yet

Public, other organizations can weigh in during special public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, November 10

Alamance County’s own departments and agencies have already submitted nearly $48.2 million in spending requests for the county’s share of the pandemic relief funds that federal authorities doled out earlier this year.

These internally-generated proposals, which were presented to the county’s board of commissioners on Monday, amount to almost one and a half times the $32.9 million that the county is currently slated to get under the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which Congress adopted in March to stimulate the nation’s pandemic-stricken economy.

Alamance County manager Bryan Hagood ultimately included some high priority items as well as other, more discretionary requests among the $48,168,896 in spending proposals that he shared with the commissioners. Hagood put particular emphasis on two of the costlier items in this organizational wish list – a new “divergence center” for mentally inmates and a proposed “community” for homeless veterans that, together, could siphon away $21.2 million of the county’s pandemic relief allocation.

Hagood went on to remind the commissioners that the requests he presented this week aren’t even the sum total of all the claims that may impinge on the county’s share of the federal largesse.

“These are just county projects,” he told the county’s governing board. “We have not included any nonprofits or other organizations at this point.”

The commissioners expect to hear additional pitches from outside agencies and organizations during a public forum that they had previously scheduled for the evening of November 10. This gathering, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. in the county’s historic courthouse, will also give members of the general public an opportunity to weigh in on the county’s proposed allocations.

In either case, the commissioners have allotted five minutes to each of the event’s speakers, which Hagood said already include 10 local nonprofits organizations that have notified him of their plans to approach the commissioners that evening.

Before he presented the county’s own internal requests, Hagood reminded the commissioners about some of the previous outlays from the county’s original pandemic relief allocation of $32,925,136. The county manager recalled that the commissioners have reduced this sum by $1,712,350 to fund a new HVAC system in the county’s human services center and by another $1,025,764 to cover an assortment of other spending requests.

Hagood also noted that another $3,842,981 has been drawn off to reimburse the county for its own, pandemic-related expenses, although he added that these funds remain tucked away in the county’s financial reserves.

Hagood said that, depending on what the commissioners ultimately plan to do with this $3.8 million in reimbursements, they have either $26,344,041 or $30,187,022 still left from its original pandemic relief allocation. The county manager went on to impart some of the sundry suggestions that the county’s own departments and agencies have for the disbursement of the remaining federal funds:

· The focus of Hagood’s presentation to the commissioners was $23,684,778 in potential outlays to address mental health needs that are tied to the pandemic.

o In this category, the county manager included $13.2 million for a so-called divergence center that the county has set up to provide appropriate resources for mentally ill individuals who are arrested for non-violent offenses. RHA, a contractor in the county’s employ, already operates an incipient version of this center at a temporary location along Anne Elizabeth Drive in Burlington. Hagood said that the county could potentially use $1,888,082 of its federal pandemic allocation to establish a permanent facility and divert another $11,319,918 of these funds to cover its operations for the coming three years. The county manager went on to suggest that the county find ways to pare back the center’s operational costs in order to minimize its own future expenses when the pandemic relief funds run out. He nevertheless argued that this project would be a particularly good use of the county’s ARP allocation. “One thing I would say is that the divergence center has a little bit of urgency about it,” the county manager said – an opinion that was later echoed by sheriff Terry Johnson as well as a majority of the commissioners.

o Hagood also lobbied hard for the creation of a “veterans community” – a proposal based on a model program in Kansas City that could reduce the county’s pandemic relief fund by another $8 million. Hagood, who recently toured the Kansas City community with commissioner Pam Thompson, said that a similar program could be replicated in Alamance County for $5 million in construction costs and another $3 million or so to operate the program for a period of two years.

o Also in the arena of mental health needs, Hagood presented another $2,484,778 in court-related requests for programs that included family court, a centralized victims hotline, and an offender accountability initiative.

· Hagood presented the commissioners with another $17,208,118 in requests to cover the projected costs of the county’s direct responses to the pandemic. These proposed outlays included:

o $1.8 million for immunization;

o $5,944,372 for staff compensation;

o $370,339 for election-related modifications to reduce the spread of COVID-19;

o $958,000 for safeguards within Alamance County’s jail;

o $1,742,000 for improvements to court buildings;

o $358,089 for emergency management, including a new position that the emergency management director has sought;

o $3 million to cover “premium pay” for staff who’ve put themselves at personal risk to serve residents during the pandemic. Hagood suggested that, if the commissioners chose to extend such premium pay, they should do so in the form of bonuses or be prepared to swallow the additional cost in salaries once the relief funds run out because, in his view, it would be “difficult to go back to the employees and reduce their pay.”

o $3,083,318 in potential capital improvements to county facilities. Hagood went on to note that some projects, like ventilation upgrades and additional parking at the county’s human services center, are slam dunks to qualify for federal pandemic relief. He added, however, that other capital projects are less certain to be eligible for these particular funds. “If we choose to do any of these with ARP money,” he said, “we really need to get into the weeds to make sure these projects qualify.”

· Hagood told the commissioners that they could also spend up to $3 million to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. He added that this revenue would have to be disbursed within the county’s only “Qualified Census Tract,” which centers on north Burlington and extends east along North Church Street to Graham-Hopedale Road;

· The county manager said that the commissioners could also spend up to $3,376,000 on broadband Internet services for the county’s own programs and agencies:

o $376,000 of this sum would go toward the county’s library system;

o another $3 million could be used to set up two new towers to facilitate the county’s emergency communications.

· Hagood presented another $900,000 in prospective outlays on water and sewer projects:
o $400,000 to run water lines to areas around the county’s decommissioned landfill in Swepsonville;

o $500,000 for surface water protection and stream bank conservation.