Brevard decides to spend most of the remaining COVID funds on infrastructure

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Brevard County officials will spend their remaining federal stimulus money from the COVID-19 pandemic to upgrade storm and sewer infrastructure, provide economic relief to some people in need and develop plans for new projects.

The commission voted last week to approve the second installment of American Rescue Plan Act funding that Brevard received in June. In total, the county received $58.5 million in June, of which nearly $19 million has already been spent on other projects.

ARPA was passed in March 2021 to continue investments directed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in 2020.

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“The County Executive’s office met with staff from various departments to review potential projects listed in four categories,” County Executive Frank Abbate said.

These conversations resulted in a list of recommendations totaling nearly $40 million in approved projects. The bulk of the credits, about $23 million, will be for infrastructure, particularly water and sewer projects.

The public health department will receive $300,000 for a mosquito control and entomology lab and an additional $4.5 million of ARPA funding will be for revenue replacement, funding for three different concept plans, an animal hospital and upgraded maintenance facility along Wickham Road and Bridge.

Of the $58 million that was allocated last week. About $3.5 million of that total was allocated to parks and recreation for capital improvements, leaving $2 million, less than 4%, for affordable housing and labor .

ARPA aid packages came with strings attached

Brevard received more than $220 million from ARPA’s two aid programs, and although there were certain conditions, such as agreeing to help the families with rent and food, local officials had great latitude to decide how they wanted to spend the money. Both pieces of legislation aimed to help communities suffering from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Brevard received nearly $117 million in ARPA funding, separated into two tranches of approximately $58 million each.

Commissioners had already not only allocated all of the money from the first round of funding received in May 2021, but also earmarked some of the planned second tranche funding.

Brevard used $12 million for the construction of a new emergency operations center, about $1.9 million for a real estate appraiser’s office, nearly $3.6 million for claim reimbursements coronavirus-related medical supplies, $1.2 million for a radio upgrade for public safety.

The accompanying recovery plan report focused almost exclusively on the money the commissioners approved for round one funding. Of the initial $58 million, 75% or $44 million was used to pay for water, wastewater and stormwater projects.

Another $2 million was used to fund an incentive program to encourage employees to get vaccinated. None of the money, it seems, has been allocated to the growing problem of affordable housing.

Some participants in the meeting questioned how the commissioners used the money.

“Looking at the allocation of ARPA funds, I find it interesting in one aspect that you would expect a lot of it to go to utilities with the sewer aspect,” said Sandra Sullivan, who lost the county commission of district 4. primary contest in august. “But a lot of it has gone to stormwater, which is a natural resource, which already gets a lot of funding from the lagoon.”

“There’s really some creative writing from the county commission here to put it under the infrastructure umbrella,” she added.

Abbate disagreed, saying, “There is no concern. We ensured that central services and budgeting looked at each element independently. We also went through the county attorney’s office, who also reviewed it, to make sure everything is properly categorized.

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There was money left in reserve to deal with possible cost overruns, but Commissioner Rita Pritchett asked her colleagues on the commission to consider spending the money on “health and capacity issues for roads”.

Ralph Chapoco is a government and political watchdog journalist. You can reach Chapoco at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @rchapoco.

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