North Olympic Peninsula reaps millions in federal COVID funds

North Olympic Peninsula county and city governments are laying groundwork to spend $32.8 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, which are coming their way this year and in 2022, on needs from health care to business relief to infrastructure.

Clallam County will receive $15 million and Jefferson County $6.3 million, according to home.treasury.gov.

The cities of Port Angeles will receive $5.6 million, Port Townsend $2.7 million, Sequim $2.1 million and Forks $1.1 million.

Half of the allotments from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds are being distributed this spring and the other half next spring.

The funds, allocated based on 2019 population estimates, can be spent in five broad categories listed on Treasury’s website.

They are public health, including COVID-19 mitigation efforts, behavioral health care and public health and safety staff; negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic to groups including workers, households, industries and the public sector; and to replace public sector revenue lost due to the pandemic.

ARPA funding also can be spent on premium pay for essential workers and to support workers whose health is at risk from employment in critical infrastructure areas; and to invest in infrastructure such as water, sewer, wastewater, stormwater facilities and broadband access and infrastructure.

Clallam County’s $7.5 million for this year is already in the bank, county Commissioner Mark Ozias of Sequim said.

At the weekly county Economic Development Council meeting on June 16 featuring newsmakers, he described both short- and long-term needs, emphasizing child care, housing, homelessness, behavioral health and COVID-19-related business community losses.

County officials have just started assessing the cost of the county to staff and services and to fund future COVID-19 costs such as personal protection equipment and supporting contact-tracing team, he said at the meeting.

“Once we have a sense of that, then we’ll know what’s left over to be able to be able to deploy out into the community,” Ozias said.

The funds must be committed as expenditures by 2024 and spent by 2026, he said last week.

“Our goal is to start spending them as soon as we can,” he said.

Working groups, consisting of residents involved in different sectors that can receive funds, will make recommendations to Ozias and Commissioners Randy Johnson of Port Angeles and Bill Peach of Forks.

The commissioners will be working with the EDC to set up a structure for disbursing ARPA money to businesses hard-hit by the pandemic, Ozias added.

Sequim Mayor Bill Armacost did not return calls for comment Thursday about the $2.1 million the city will receive.

Port Angeles

Port Angeles Mayor Kate Dexter said Thursday the City Council has yet to discuss spending priorities for the ARPA funds but had some ideas of her own.

Dexter said the $5.6 million might be spent on partnering with the county on providing supportive and affordable housing and to add a grant manager position to city staff.

She said the city also has infrastructure needs and that the funds could be used for COVID-19 relief by covering delinquent utility accounts.

“Certainly, with this kind of money, there are a few options that come to mind,” Dexter said.

Forks

Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck said Thursday the city has submitted the paperwork to receive the funding and has already dedicated it almost entirely to infrastructure.

The City Council on April 12 approved spending 94.5 percent of it to $2 million to $3 million in sewer improvements and 5 percent toward design and engineering for a $1 million to $2 million water storage tank.

The remaining 0.5 percent will be used for outstanding COVID-19 expenditures.

Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval and City Manager John Mauro did not return calls for comment Thursday about the $2.7 million in ARPA funding that the City Council formally accepted Monday.

Mauro told Peninsula Daily News on Wednesday in an email that the city has lost about $1 million in revenue in the general fund, community services fund, the streets fund and in lodging taxes during the pandemic.

Mauro said in the email that he will likely suggest “strategic uses of funding” to cover 2020 losses.

Jefferson County

Jefferson County commissioners have an immediate need they could address with the county’s initial allotment of $3.1 million, Commissioner Kate Dean of Port Townsend said Thursday, adding the county received notice Wednesday that its application for funding was approved.

She and commissioners Greg Brotherton of Quilcene and Heidi Eisenhour of Port Hadlock must address a ballooning crisis involving 50 homeless individuals at a county fairgrounds encampment, Dean said an hour before a public meeting on their impending eviction by the fairgrounds association.

“Our highest priority is to use some of the funding to help with our current homelessness crisis, and we are waiting to commit it to other uses until we know what our spending will be for finding a permanent location for the homeless, and (for) transitional housing,” she added.

“We see this as an opportunity to finally secure a location and to be able to provide services to get that population on their feet.”

Tribal support

The Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund, part of the Rescue Plan, will provide $20 billion to support tribal governments throughout the nation, according to the Department of the Treasury.

“To protect the privacy of Tribal government information, each Tribal government will receive its allocation amount after submitting its request for funding in the Treasury Submission Portal,” according to home.treasury.gov.

Ozias’ presentation is available at the EDC website, clallam.org by clicking “Link to Archive” at the bottom of the home page.

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