ARPA funds, take two

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 7/21/21

MONTICELLO, NY — So, what to do with the $7.3 million or so that makes up half of Sullivan County’s allotment under the American Rescue Plan Act?

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ARPA funds, take two

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MONTICELLO, NY — So, what to do with the $7.3 million or so that makes up half of Sullivan County’s allotment under the American Rescue Plan Act?

Use half for roads and half for the college’s capital project, the legislative management and budget committee recommended on July 8.

Public comment firmly disagreed. They protested that day, and they hammered their message home on July 15. Use some of it, they said, for premium pay for essential county workers. Let’s compensate them for their work during the pandemic.

Clearly, legislators either listened to them or thought it over in the meantime. By July 15, they were asking questions about premium pay.

Plus, it’s a complicated issue, with a toehold in the weeds of municipal finance in New York State.

Paying for it: What were the college’s funds for?

First off, as Potosek said later by email, capital funding for community colleges in the state is the responsibility of the sponsoring entity—the county government—and the state. Not the college. “If the state approves of the project, the county and state each typically pay 50 percent of the project cost.”

Other local funding sources, like federal aid or fundraising, help reduce the county’s share.

By paying the college’s capital project with ARPA funds, it saves $2 million in interest costs. Otherwise, Potosek said during the full legislature meeting, the county would be making payments for 15 years. “You’re freeing up appropriations that you don’t have to spend [on debt] going forward.”

“It gives [the college] the opportunity to access more state funds,” Sorensen said. He spoke about the importance of the community college in the county. “It’s the only access to higher education for a lot of students... and I think that’s a sound investment.”

Determining allocation

In considering premium pay, the legislators launched into a discussion about how to allocate the funds individually.

The pay boost should be for public employees who had no choice about working with the public, like the Care Center at Sunset Lake employees and corrections officers, legislator Luis Alvarez said. 

“They’re essential workers; they came in to work when nobody else did,” legislator Nadia Rajsz agreed.

The discussion veered off into the problems with the process (see Sullivan County, briefly below), but returned in the full legislature meeting later that day.

“I voted yes [on the original resolution] and I think I made a mistake,” legislator Joe Perrello said.

Most of the legislature seemed to be thinking the problem over. Legislator Ira Steingart suggested giving county essential workers a one-time $500 bonus but added that what really mattered was the long term. Concentrate on reducing debt so people could be paid better.

“Some people went over and above to help others,” Perrello said. “I don’t know what that dollar amount should be... we should have had more discussion on this.”

Ultimately, legislator Alan Sorensen proposed that the road funds would stay the same, $375,000 would be carved out of the college’s allocation, and a third line added giving $375,000 for premium pay.

The amended resolution passed, 6-3, with Rob Doherty, George Conklin and Nick Salomone voting against.

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