City still working on plans for use of $19.47 million in ARPA funds; process for community grants

The city is continuing their discussions on how to use $19.47 million in American Rescue Plan funds, which are federal COVID relief funds.

During both their work sessions in January, City Commissioners discussed the city’s priority projects and a proposed application for community entities to request some of the funding for eligible projects.

During the Jan. 18 meeting, commissioners spent considerable time discussing whether funding would be available for the community grants and what the city’s priority projects were.

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In December, staff sent a memo to commissioners with a list of recommended city projects that are eligible for the ARPA funds totaling $19.1 million and leaving about $300,000 for project cost increases or for the public grant application program if the commission chooses to pursue that.

“The projects listed here are a prioritization of projects that have been discussed by the commission and, I believe, reflect the best interests of the Great Falls community as reflected in the discourse of our leadership bodies,” Tom Hazen, the city’s grant manager, wrote in the memo.

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The list of proposed city projects hasn’t changed considerably over the last few months and focuses on projects that are largely one-time capital improvement projects meeting the federal rules for the funding and were submitted by city departments.

Hazen’s December memo included the following projects:

In mid-January, the federal government changed the rules for the funding again and now allows up to $10 million for specific governmental purposes.

City Manager Greg Doyon said that the city was reviewing the new rules and the proposed projects from departments to determine if there would be any changes to the recommended use of the funding if more projects were eligible.

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He told The Electric on Jan. 20 that staff were still working on the revised list and that the initial staff recommendations are a good guide, but he expects some changes.

During the Jan. 18 commission work session, staff walked commissioners through the proposed application form for the potential community grants of some of the city’s ARPA funds.

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

Staff proposed a July deadline for the applications to be able to review and recommend funding of projects rather than a rolling deadline.

Staff has also recommended a minimum grant request of $40,000 to lessen the administrative work for staff to monitor small projects and also to encourage larger, impactful projects.

Staff has also recommended a review process similar to that they use for their federal Community Development Block Grants.

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Staff has included information in the application about the eligibility requirements, performance measures and reporting requirements for any recipient of the funds.

The process would allow for an umbrella organization, such as a local nonprofit, to apply for larger chunks of funding and then distribute those funds to subrecipients.

Commissioner Rick Tryon expressed concern with that idea, but other commissioners seemed satisfied with the information requested on the application and the review process to determine that the funding is used appropriately.

Most commissioners said they wanted to wait to release the community grant application until they had determined the city projects for the funding and what amount of funding would be available for the grants.