By Jim Newell
Orion Township will be awarded $3,833,695 through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the township will not be spending all of those funds at once. Instead, the township will divvy up those funds on various cost reimbursements and new projects and expenses over the next four years.
Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett expects the township will get the first half of the funds from the federal government in October.
“They said, ”End of September, early October.’ We have not received it, yet, but we’re supposed to be getting $1.9 million, essentially, any day now and it will be wired to us,” Barnett said.
The second half will be paid in the fall 2022. The township has until December 2024 to spend all of the funds or risk losing any unspent portion.
However, the township’s goal is to keep spending of ARPA funds under $750,000 per year. That’s because if the township spends $750,000 or more in federal grant money, it would be required to complete a time-consuming single audit, which could cost around $10,000.
In one of the years, the township will have to spend more than $750,000, or risk losing what they don’t spend.
“One of the years we’re definitely going to spend more than $750,000,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the township will decide over the next couple of months how the ARPA funds will be spent over the next four years.
“Originally, we had to have a report to the federal government by the end of November as to how we were going to spend 100 percent of the money. They just extended that date to April 2022, mostly because they can’t answer a lot of our questions,” Barnett said. “It’s not just Orion Township or the village. It’s everybody that has all these questions.”
Barnett said some of the expenses that the township could potentially spend the ARPA funds on include previous hazard pay for employees, broadband infrastructure or other infrastructure.
“We are not doing hazard pay. I’m not doing that. I’m not in favor of paying our employees more just because we worked through the pandemic. That’s our job,” Barnett said. “And we’re not doing broadband infrastructure because our residents have access to the internet other ways.
“And we’re not going to spend it all on water and sewer projects because there’s still some uncertainty about that – and our system is pretty modern,” he said. “We’re kind of in a good position where we’re going to have money, we can spend outside of COVID-related stuff on other things.”
Those other things could include amenities that all residents can enjoy.
“My personal opinion is, I’d like to spend it on things our residents can see, touch, feel and enjoy. To me, that’s park improvements, trail work on the Paint Creek and Polly Ann trails. We think it fits; we’re just waiting for real clarity (from the feds).
“I don’t want to just bury it away in some other fund. It’s given to us to spend and I want to spend it and I want to spend it on things our residents can enjoy,” Barnett said.
Orion Township will spend all of the ARPA funds it receives and will not give back any portion, as some residents have suggested because of the federal debt.
“We’re absolutely going to spend it. Because in the federal government’s eyes when they passed the bill, even though we don’t have all of the money, that money is out there. If we reject it, our money will end up going someplace else,” Barnett said. “The money is spent. We will spend it in the township.”
Orion Township’s planned ARPA expenses for 2021
The township has been paying for things out of its own funds – such as COVID-19 expenses incurred during the pandemic – and will reimburse those accounts once it has the money from the feds.
Federal funds already expensed in 2021 that are reimbursements to township accounts are: $16,844 for Community Development Block Grants; $66,019 in COVID-19 expenses; $319, 206.99 for the Holland & Semloh watermain project; and $42,313.16 for Police Services Award from 2020.
Barnett added that the township would likely not have done the Holland & Semloh project if it did not already know that it would be receiving ARPA funds.
The Orion Township Fire Department also received a $126,664 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) AFG grant, some of which may be expensed in 2021.
During the Oct. 4 meeting, the township board approved 6-0 several recommended purchases and services to get to the $750,000 threshold for 2021.
Those expenditures include:
• A touchless time clock with an RFID reader so employees can scan a door access key fob instead of using a thumbprint and passcode, $10,890.
• Laptop and remote computing equipment to allow employees to work remotely, $38,573.01.
• Upgrade soap and paper towel dispensers at the Municipal Complex and Sheriff’s Substation to motion activated, $9,436.
• Replace the digital sign at the Orion Center, $41,800.
• Purchase a digital sign for the Municipal Complex, $57,320.
“We’re confident that these expenditures that were approved by the board on (Oct. 4) are eligible, but there are other things that are still question marks. So, we knew we needed to start spending the money this year, but when we spend more than $750,000 and have to do the single audit is still to be determined once the final guidance comes out from Treasury,” Barnett said.
The township also wants to replace a generator for a sewer lift station ($30,000) and replace the carpets at fire stations two and four with laminate to make them easier to clean and disinfect. However, those numbers are estimates and could put the township over the $750,000 threshold.
“Some of those projects will push into 2022,” Barnett said.
The township needs to have purchases physically on site by Dec. 31 of this year in order for that purchase to count toward the 2021 ARPA expenditures.