ARPA proposals head to county board

Dec. 3—TRAVERSE CITY — Requests for American Rescue Plan Act money vary from $3,000 for signs at Slabtown Neighborhood Park to nearly $14 million for Spectrum Mid-America to build broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners will hear a presentation at its regular meeting Wednesday on the proposals by Tim Dempsey of Public Sector Consultants, who was hired to lead the county through the process of designating about $18.1 million in ARPA funding.

A study session, at which board members will discuss and possibly begin choosing proposals, is set for 8 a.m. Dec. 14 at the county governmental center. The public will also be able to weigh in.

Lack of mental health services is consistently named as one of the top issues in the county. A $5 million request from the team that is in the process of creating the Grand Traverse Center for Mental Wellness is on the list. The center, which does not yet have a location, will serve as a crisis intervention center, a diversion center for jails and emergency rooms and will have some short-term residential beds. The center will be for adults and children.

"We already knew we had a mental health crisis and COVID only made it worse," said Kate Dahlstrom, an advocate for better services. "And we're not out of it yet. The mental health crisis only seems to gain steam every day and gets worse and worse."

The county received 108 requests for funding, including three that came in after the Oct. 31 deadline. Of those, 48 were eliminated because they did not meet criteria, said county Administrator Nate Alger. The rest were ranked high to low.

"We found that many of them just didn't fit as clearly as we thought they would with the (U.S. Department of Treasury) Final Rule," Alger said. "There was a strong sense and belief that the proposals should have been COVID-related."

The board will review all of the proposals, even those that were eliminated, he said.

"Regardless, every one of these applications is going to the board," Alger said. "The board has the final say in what gets funded and for how much."

Commission Chair Rob Hentschel said going through all of the proposals and deciding which ones should be funded is going to be a lot of work for commissioners.

"This isn't what we do," Hentschel said. "So to figure out how to best allocate $18.1 million into the community, it's a heavy lift."

He said he got some advice from Sakura Takano, the CEO of Rotary Charities. Takano is also on an ARPA committee made up of local community members that formed last year to recommend the most fitting proposals to the county board.

"She told me not to be afraid to take a chance on a project," Hentschel said.

The Treasury Department laid out five broad funding categories for ARPA funds — COVID-19 response, economic impacts of COVID, replacing revenue losses from the pandemic, premium pay for eligible workers, and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

A community survey done last year also named workforce housing, mental and behavioral health services, childcare and infrastructure as the top items that should be funded.

Several of the submitted proposals are for water and sewer projects that can be a catalyst for attracting developers for needed housing projects.

"The biggest barriers to building new housing are often water, sewer and roads," Hentschel said.

The Pavilions skilled nursing facility needs a new roof, Green Lake Township wants to build a pickleball court, and area pantries need money for an increased demand for food, especially since many pandemic-related programs have been discontinued.

The Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center is asking for money for child abuse trauma therapy, as the demand for such therapy increased during the pandemic and federal funding has not kept up.

The committee set criteria that included that the projects should be self-sustaining, address known gaps in the community, benefit the most citizens possible while targeting underserved populations and have long-lasting impact. They should also meet federal requirements.

ARPA money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and be spent by the end of 2026.