County still finalizing decisions on COVID funds


GREENFIELD — The Hancock County government is still discussing how to handle the administration of its American Rescue Plan Act funds, with a questionnaire for nonprofit organizations interested in receiving funds that was briefly posted online being removed.

Commissioners asked the county auditor to remove the form, which was prepared by members of the county council, at their Tuesday, Oct. 19, meeting, saying they had not yet made final decisions about how they want the funds to be distributed.

Commissioner Marc Huber said the ARP funds will be one of the discussion topics on the table at a joint meeting of the county council and commissioners to be held Nov. 3. He said he and members of the council have met informally with the Hancock County Community Foundation to discuss the role the foundation could play in administering the funds, but haven’t finalized anything yet.

County council member Keely Butrum, who has led efforts to plan for administration of the ARP funds along with fellow member Jim Shelby, said she and Shelby were under the impression the county was ready to move forward with the application process.

“I guess we’ll just have to take it up at the joint meeting on November 3,” Butrum said.

Hancock County will receive approximately $15 million in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which are intended to serve a variety of purposes like supporting COVID-19 response efforts; making up for revenue lost due to the pandemic; and addressing economic and public health challenges that exacerbated the impact of the virus. It is by far the largest share of relief funds going to entities in the county.

Members of county government have said they intend to allocate about 40% of the ARP money to infrastructure improvements; 25% to organizations dedicated to mental health; and 25% for other nonprofits. The remaining 10% would be reserved for emergency expenses.

Butrum said the final version of the questionnaire for nonprofits will likely include similar questions to the one that was posted online. Those include inquiries about organizations’ missions, current revenue, available space and the demographics they serve, as well as about the size of the grant they would seek and what they would plan to do with it.

Butrum added that she is open to the community foundation having a role in administering ARP funds, but said the county auditor has a specific legal role to play in managing the funds. The county will need to make sure it stays within those rules, she said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners said they’d like to have the foundation authorized to make decisions on smaller grants to nonprofits, while the county could individually consider those requesting a larger amount, perhaps over $25,000.

“I don’t think we want any replacement of revenue,” Huber said. “We want new spending on new things.”

Huber also said it could be beneficial to create several award periods across the two-year window governments are allotted to spend their ARP funds, rather than distributing them all at once.

Many organizations in the county, Huber said, could benefit from a smaller contribution in the range of $5,000 to $20,000, and the county doesn’t want to leave those nonprofits out. However, he said, he’s hoping that the high amount of available funds will attract more ambitious projects that could fill a need in the county that’s currently unmet.

“I think we’re hoping that organizations or groups in the community might come together with some larger projects,” he said.

For those groups that are interested in more ambitious projects, Huber said the county would want to see a more detailed business plan outlining the organization’s ability to manage a new venture that would be sustainable once ARP funds have been spent.

Some local nonprofits have already expressed interest in potentially using the funds to expand, with the women’s recovery organization Talitha Koum Recovery House hoping an investment of ARP funds could provide partial funding toward purchasing affordable housing for its clients.

Some municipalities in Hancock County have already begun making decisions about ARP funds. Greenfield Clerk-Treasurer Lori Elmore said members of city government have been participating in webinars about the proper uses of the funds and have not made any final decisions. She said the city doesn’t anticipate spending funds before the end of 2021.