City, county officials get briefed on ARPA rules

May 11—The Terre Haute City Council and Vigo County Council on Thursday together took the first step toward digesting federal regulations on how they can use American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The regulations spell out how more than $50 million in federal funding can be distributed and spent.

The government bodies met for a presentation from consultant RJL Solutions and accounting firm Baker Tilly.

Vigo County Commissioners and Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett also attended.

Applying for and accounting for funds distributed through the American Rescue Plan Act is essential to meet federal auditing requirements.

There are 83 categories in which to apply for ARPA funds, said Lucas Peterson, municipal advisory consultant for Baker Tilly.

Funds can be made directly to a recipient, such as the United Way of the Wabash Valley. That agency could also then use ARPA funds to distribute other groups, such as nonprofit organizations, which would have to be approved as an ARPA sub-recipient.

All funds must be committed by Dec. 31, 2024 with all funds expended no later than Dec. 31, 2026.

There also are audit requirements. If a recipient receives more than $750,000, that recipient will have an individual federal audit, Peterson said.

An organization seeking ARPA funds has to make a 15-minute technology-based presentation (which can include a PowerPoint) to either the City Council or County Council by Dec. 31.

June deadline for groups

Organizations must notify RJL Solutions by June 9 to declare which month they will make a presentation before the city or county. That will give time for RJL Solutions to work with an organization on its presentation.

County Council President R. Todd Thacker recommended the deadline be moved up to November, adding the council does not meet in December.

Thacker said a special meeting can be called in December, but he said it has to have a specific reason "not just because you didn't get around to it."

Rachel Leslie, chief executive officer of RJL Solutions, said those deadlines were set to allow the city or county time to reallocate ARPA funds if a stakeholder "is unable to use those funds in that timeline in the way that they are supposed to be used. We don't want you giving any of that money back" to the federal government, Leslie said.

Thacker said while organizations can make a presentation for ARPA funds "I don't know that they are all going to make it," he said. "If you present to us, it doesn't mean we are going to okay it, just FYI," he said.

"There will come a time and you make a presentation and you don't give us what we want to see in that subset group, you are not going to get money," Thacker said.

"I am not trying to be the Grinch here, but we have a fiscal responsibility as the (County) Council that we are going to have to be convinced" on distribution of ARPA funds, council president said.

"I think the (county) commissioners and RJL Solutions have done a great job of getting it to this point and doing this (presentation) — I commend you. We are doing the right move, we are moving forward, but it is not just going to be a slam dunk and I don't want everybody to think that," Thacker said.

Thacker added the county and the city mst "make sure we get this money spent in the time frame. We want to see these stakeholders succeed, but we also want to hold them accountable.

"We know once we make that vote and approve it, we better have all our questions answered at that point because we can't bring them back for more questions," Thacker said.

Nonprofit attendees

Several nonprofit and small business organizations also attended the presentation.

Jim Speer, vice president of Terre Foods Cooperative Market, which has a facility at 2128 N. 13th St., asked how stakeholders are chosen.

"We have not heard anything for a year and have not been contacted as a stakeholder," Speer said.

Leslie said a fund, if approved by the Vigo County Council, will go to the United Way of the Wabash Valley. That agency will then distribute ARPA funds "in a process in which those in the food cooperative world will be able to apply and receive those funds. You will be a sub-recipient stakeholder, versus a stakeholder," Leslie said.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said he presentation "was just the beginning of laying that foundation, the groundwork and (a look at) how the funds will work their way from the city and county out into the community."

"There are some people that we have identified that we are moving toward funding," the mayor said, including the United Way of the Wabash Valley for nonprofit organizations and Thrive West Central for housing issues, Bennett said.

The United Way would enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city and county for ARPA funds that the United Way would distribute to nonprofits.

The city received $35.9 million in ARPA money and has spent about $4 million on COVID-19 impacts from 2021 to the city budget and for salaries of workers during the pandemic.

Vigo County received $20.76 million, and earlier this month designated just over $2.1 million of that to drainage and culvert projects.

"Now we begin to spend money in the community," Bennett said, "so there will be spending done on some city projects, some money spent on housing projects within our community, and there will be money spent with not-for-profits. And we are looking at food desert kind of things that we would like to help bring some fresh food into parts of our community."

"So infrastructure, not-for-profit support, small business support. It is kind of an across-the board-variety of things that we will be funding with those remaining dollars," the mayor said.

"We have to create the (application and financial tracking) process and (RJL Solutions) is helping us do that and then to make sure that we are in compliance, which is Baker Tilley's role," Bennett said.

"This is a very complex and a heavily audited process. Every single penny we have to account for," he said.

Jodi Moan, executive director at Happiness Bag Inc., which helps people with disabilities, attended the presentation. That agency would seek ARPA funds to help with an 11,000-square-foot expansion, now estimated to cost $3.4 million.

"In order to serve more individuals in the community, we need more space," Moan said. Currently Happiness Bag serves 60 to 70 individuals daily; an expansion would add the ability to help 30 to 40 more people with specialized activities.

The Happines Bag's capital campaign has raised just under $2 million of a $3.4 million goal.

Moan said the ARPA presentation helped provide useful information.

Susan Turner, executive director of the Terre Haute Children's Museum, said the museum over the past 12 months has been going through a strategic master planning process, which identified a need for an outdoor play space at the museum, along with an outdoor green space.

"We are one of the only children's museums that doesn't have this kind of a feature, and it really became evident during COVID that we are missing out." Turner said after the presentation.

The museum will seek ARPA funds toward a goal of closing a section of 8th Street between Wabash Avenue and Ohio Street for an outdoor play space. An east-west alley that runs behind the museum would remain opened for buses and other vehicles to access the rear of the museum and the Candlewood Suites hotel.

The Vigo County Council had four members present, with members Nancy Allsup, Aaron Loudermilk and David Thompson absent.

The Terre Haute City Council had seven members present, with council members Amy Auler and Neil Garrison absent.

Loudermilk had previously advised county officials by email he would not attend as he did not believe the special meeting of the County Council had been posted in time to meet the 48-hour notice mandated by law.

Nothing had been mentioned at the council's regularly scheduled meeting, and and notice wasn't emailed to council members until the afternoon of May 9. He said to his mind, an email with an attached "backdated" document dated May 8 was insufficient.

County Auditor Jim Bramble, in turn, distributed a link to the posting on the county's website and said that notice also had been placed on three bulletin boards at the county annex.

Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter @TribStarHoward.