City caps ARPA funds at $3 million for community grants

City Commissioners decided during their May 17 work session to cap the amount of federal COVID relief funds set aside for community grants at $3 million.

During that meeting, staff reviewed their efforts to get estimates and finalize plans for city projects using American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city has been allocated $19.47 in ARPA funds.

Tom Hazen, the city’s grant administrator, told commissioners during their May 17 meeting that it would be good to know how much money was in the pot for the community grants.

City approves $1.3 million in ARPA funds to refurbish fire engines

Mayor Bob Kelly said he wished they’d had more time to prepare for making that decision.

He suggested a $4 million cap for the community grants.

Last year, commissioners began discussing the potential for opening some of the ARPA funds for a community grant.

In October, the city asked for public comment on a proposed application and process.

City finalizing plans for use of ARPA funds; beginning discussion of public safety levy

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.

During January meetings, commissioners discussed the city’s priorities and the potential community grant program.

City accepting grant applications for COVID relief funds

In January, several commissioners had said that they wanted to wait to open the community grant application process until they had determined the amount of funding that would be available for the program.

They didn’t make decisions on proposed city projects or set parameters for the community grants.

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

In February, city staff released the application and began accepting applications for the community grants.

[ARPA grant applications and guidance]

At that time, The Electric asked whether officials had determined the amount that would be set aside for the community grants. They had not.

Applications are due July 15 and the city has received two applications so far.

City continuing discussion of use of $19.47 million in ARPA funds during Jan. 4 meeting

Commissioner Susan Wolff said during the May 17 meeting that they were waiting to see what applications they got before making that decision, but agreed that groups would want to know what funding is available if they were spending a lot of time writing applications.

She asked if they should cap individual projects.

Commissioners reviewed drafts of the application for months and did not put caps on individual projects. The minimum grant amount is $40,000.

City seeking feedback on ARPA fund application, potential grant process

Kelly said individual projects shouldn’t be capped since some would be large projects.

Commissioner Joe McKenny said “I have no idea what our community partner needs are. I just don’t know. I think $4 million is too high, is too generous.”

He said he’d prefer a percentage, perhaps 10 percent of the ARPA and CARES Act allocation, which was closed to $3 million.

Commissioner Rick Tryon said that the city should use the funds for city needs and projects.

City approves fines for RV parking; using COVID dollars to replenish some city funds

He said that community agencies have access to other funds through the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME fund programs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that are allocated to the city annually.

Commissioner Eric Hinebauch said that $3 million was reasonable.

Wolff said that they should put parameters around the applications.

Staff spent months working with commissioners to develop the application and will review them and use a scoring system similar to what they use for CDBG and HOME requests to determine funding recommendations.

Under the grant application released by the city, to be eligible, all project expenses must be incurred between March 31, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2024. Projects must be completed and funds must be expended by Sept. 30, 2026.

Some of those projects are underway, including refurbishing three fire engines and installing cameras in a city parking garage.

Others are being finalized and some are being reprioritized.

Staff has spent months going through proposed projects to determine those that meet the federal requirements and prioritizing those projects based on available funding and immediacy of needs.

City seeking feedback on ARPA fund application, potential grant process

Hazen said that staff are finalizing some proposals and will bring those to commissioners soon for consideration.

He said the plan to acquire additional office space requires further staff discussion and analysis.

Staff has opted to pull the 911 backup system from ARPA consideration since there are too many decisions and details to be sorted and the evidence building is a higher priority, according to Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton.