Sanpete County leaders are considering how to spend almost $15 million that has been dropped into local government coffers because of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill signed into law March 11 that provides a third round of fiscal relief in an effort to speed the country’s recovery from the health and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This round of stimulus comes on the heels of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act passed in 2020. Like the CARES Act, ARPA stipulates how funds can be used.
Some local governments, such as Ephraim, are still talking with legal counsel to determine “appropriate uses” for the money, while other entities, such as Sanpete County, have some specific projects that almost certainly will meet the criteria—such as replacing the old Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD) building in Manti.
Sanpete County Auditor Stacey Lyon said the county will be receiving about $6 million in ARPA stimulus money in two different tranches.
The first chunk of $3 million is already sitting in the general fund. County officials and commissioners have been brainstorming on proposals “that will improve the community over time and have a lasting impact on Sanpete County,” Lyon said.
The second tranche of funding will arrive next summer.
Lyon and Sanpete County Commissioner Reed Hatch have met with the Governor’s Office several times to determine if the county’s proposals meet the funding criteria, Hatch said.
Hatch said the county is looking into building a new CUPHD building in the northeast parking lot behind the courthouse in Manti. The existing building is in pretty bad shape, he said.
The architect is designing a building that will cost between $1.25 million and $1.5 million. The new structure should accommodate the health department’s needs for at least 10 years, he said.
With some of the remaining funds, the county is thinking about upgrading the restrooms at the fairgrounds, he said. But the projected costs have yet to be determined because the current price estimates are very high, he said.
In addition, the county will be giving $200,000 to Axtell Special Service District to start fixing its culinary water system.
Down the road, with the other $3 million that will be arriving next year, the heating and air conditioning system at the Sheriff’s Complex will need be replaced, Hatch said.
The North Sanpete School District has received $2.8 million and the South Sanpete School District will be allocated $2.9 million to assist with COVID expenses. The money will be used over the next three years.
Much of the funding will be used for programs to compensate for learning loss and for accelerated learning, said South Sanpete Superintendent Ralph Squire.
The district receives ARPA funding from the state on a reimbursement basis, he said. That means the district spends its own money and then files for reimbursement.
South Sanpete has already hired reading coaches to overcome learning losses associated with COVID disruptions, he said.
Learning losses in schools are a very real problem. A recent report to the Utah State Board of Education found that student test scores in Utah dropped across every grade level, subject area, exam type and demographic group last year.
South Sanpete has published a report on how it plans to use its ARPA relief funds on its webpage.
Top priorities are to provide teacher support and individualized student instruction to accelerate learning, Squire said. The district also plans on providing mental health services for students; improving health and safety by adding nurses and cleaning supplies; purchasing additional computers and other technologies for at-home learning; and upgrading classrooms.
In the North Sanpete School District, Assistant Superintendent O’Dee Hansen said the district plans to spend its $2.8 million in ARPA funds on things like tutoring to help improve learning. The district will also be adding school trackers to check on chronic absenteeism. There will also be an emphasis on hiring behavioral analysts, counselors and nurses.
The district will upgrade some of its bathroom fixtures to improve sanitation and purchase technology for emergency response and other safety concerns. Hansen also said the district recently added positions to its summer school program.
Cities and Towns
All the cities and towns in Sanpete should have received their first installment of ARPA stimulus money, and city officials are figuring out ways to spend it.
Ephraim officials are waiting to hear from the Utah League of Cities and Towns on the association’s legal interpretation of the appropriate uses the funds before spending its first $400,000, said Councilwoman Margie Anderson.
“We have some specific ideas where we want to spend it,” she said. “But we need to make sure it is an appropriate use.”
In Manti, City Manager Kent Barton said the city has received $207,000 in ARPA funds. The city staff is evaluating a potential water infrastructure project. Barton mentioned the city worked on a sewer project last year.
Some of the acceptable uses outlined for ARPA funding include activities related to COVID-19 response, mitigation and prevention; revenue replacement; prevention and response to crime and support of public safety; and culinary water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects.