City seeking feedback on ARPA fund application, potential grant process

The city is seeking public comment on the proposed application for its allocation of American Recovery Plan Act funds.

Comment or questions are due by Oct. 18.

The city received $19.47 million in ARPA funds and officials are still developing plans for how to use the funds.

“The distribution of funds to local organizations through a competitive grant process has been regularly discussed by the mayor and the City Commissioners as one potential utilization,” according to a city release.

City staff developed a draft application for the funds that was reviewed by commissioners during their Oct. 5 work session.

Staff are seeking feedback on the application itself and also the potential gant process.

City continuing discussion on how to use $19.47 million in COVID relief funds

“Interested individuals are encouraged to review the proposed application and provide comments on any topic ranging from program eligibility to the application review process and the document’s clarity. Any questions submitted through the online form will be answered as quickly as possible by city staff,” according to the city. “The City Commission recognizes that allocations of ARPA’s size present rare opportunities to the community. With that in mind, the insight and input of Great Falls residents are genuinely encouraged and eagerly anticipated.”

Staff are proposing that most of the funds be used for city projects and some commissioners have suggested setting aside a portion of the ARPA allocation for local entities to apply for funding, such as local nonprofits.

Commissioners have not specified an amount to be set aside for community requests.

City reviewing possible uses for $19.47 million in COVID relief funds

Tom Hazen, the city’s grant manager, has suggested making the minimum grant award $40,000 since the goal is larger impact projects. Anything over $50,000 requires registration through a federal system for using federal funds. That way, some nonprofits who don’t have that federal registration have a chance to apply for funds.

During the Oct. 5 work session, Hazen summarized what staff had heard from commissioners as their priorities and goals for the funding and they didn’t ask for any changes.

In his memo to commissioners, Hazen wrote, “I hope that these edits capture the intent that the commission has for these funds.”

County pledging COVID relief dollars for water, sewer projects

He wrote that the following were repeatedly discussed as possible priorities:

  • Fire Department: funding for all proposed projects;
  • Mansfield Theater/Civic Center: funding for updated seating throughout the auditorium; Commission Chamber and courtroom: funding to update in compliance with CDC recommendations;
  • City communications and cybersecurity: funding to upgrade the equipment and effectiveness
    of city communication capabilities.
  • City parking garages: updates to on site security.
  • Allocation to local partners for further distribution: funding to Great Falls Development
    Authority, United Way, or Neighborworks.

During the Oct. 5 work session, Commissioner Rick Tryon said, “I think we need to be careful and not just see this as another funding source for already existing programs that are already serving people here.”

City developing plans to use nearly $30 million in COVID relief funds

He asked how the city would know if an applicant was intending the use the funds as revolving loan fund for other subrecipients.

The draft application form asks for information addressing both of his concerns.

Hazen said during the Oct. 5 meeting that the city had been notified that it would receive about $2 million in COVID-relief funds through the state for a sewer project. He said the city had preliminary notice of the award but was awaiting final details and then staff would determine how to fund the remaining balance of the project cost.

The project that the city applied for combined improvements to a lift station and provision of a redundant river crossing  to significantly reduce the risk of environmental impact due to potential failure of the solid waste system. The city’s original estimate for total program cost was about $8 million, Hazen told The Electric.

During the meeting, City Manager Greg Doyon said that in the near future, he planned to talk to commissioners about ideas to use CARES Act funds to “tidy up some funds that were negatively affected by COVID,” such as parking, events and pools, since those were closed or revenue streams stopped due to COVID.