Monday, June 24, 2024

Here’s New Hanover’s spending strategy for $45.5 million from the American Rescue Plan

Patrons eat at tables lined up along Front Street Thursday evening as part of Downtown Alive's initiative to expand seating areas for downtown restaurants. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
New Hanover County expects $45.5 million in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, which will fuel bonuses for county employees and infrastructure improvements, among other things. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—County leaders worked up a tentative strategy to deploy funds associated with the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Approximately $45.5 million has been allocated to New Hanover County, and officials said they hope to activate new programs in July. 

RELATED: New Hanover, Wilmington win big on American Rescue Plan with $71m in expected stimulus funds

Federal funds will enter New Hanover County in two tranches, with the first release expected in mid-May. The board of commissioners will give a thumbs up to the spending outline, designed by county staff, at its meeting next week, at which point preparations can be made for receiving and distributing the funds. 

On Wednesday, County Manager Chris Coudriet offered broad strokes of the county’s priorities for the federal funding, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Mar. 11. 

Ranging from bonuses for public employees to a robust infrastructure expansion, here are the priorities New Hanover County plans to pursue with the federal money. 

Infrastructure and Emergency Management ($12,327,521)

Stormwater Services ($4,158,521): In late 2019 the county approved a $67.80 yearly fee, for residents of the unincorporated county, designed to fund a stormwater services program. Implementing the fee was delayed amid the pandemic, and federal funds will cover costs of the program for fiscal year 2021-2022.

Water and Sewer: The utilities infrastructure on Sidbury Road — a burgeoning area of northern New Hanover County, targeted by many developers — will be extended using federal funds ($4,035,000). According to the county, “the intention is to lower development costs to provide affordable housing,” though it is not immediately clear what would prevent a developer from building entirely market-rate complexes on the land in question. Further, water and sewer infrastructure will be installed on 120 acres of county-owned property designated as the future site of the “Blue Clay Business Park” ($3,600,000).

Other: Reimbursing nonprofits that sheltered homeless persons and were denied reimbursement from FEMA ($370,000); revising the Emergency Operations Plan ($100,000); purchasing new personal protective equipment ($64,000).

Reserve and Administration ($6,930,366)

The legislation allows for a portion of funds to be reserved for potential future allowable expenses, according to the county. Ten percent of the total amount received will be placed into a reserve fund ($4,660,366); five percent of the total amount received will be placed in a reserve fund “for administration and reporting” ($2,270,000)

Essential County Employees ($6,195,177)

Frontline worker bonuses ($5,745,177): “Employee bonuses in fixed dollar amounts based on an employee’s length of service during the pandemic and full- or part-time status,” according to the county. This bonus will be gifted to county employees who were directly involved in combatting the pandemic starting last spring. 

Vaccine response bonuses ($450,000): Bonuses are also slated for “employees working directly in the vaccine response.” 

Broadband Connectivity ($5,760,000) 

Promoting access to adequate internet services has been at the forefront of  infrastructure discussions locally and in Raleigh. The county plans to use this portion of the ARP funding “to connect around 8,000 homes to broadband, focusing on households with children who qualify for Medicaid or Food and Nutrition benefits, for two years.” 

Physical and Mental Health ($4,136,936)

The county proposed a number of measures designed to defray the negative public health impacts of the pandemic, with the intention to place the following services into the continuation budget in two years. 

Schools: Making a mental health counselor available at every public school ($3,156,039); adding a school nurse supervisor and reclassifying two school nurses into “school nurse leads” ($212,000).

Senior Citizens: Establishing a mobile health outreach team and mental health counselors based in the Senior Resource Center ($332,215); additional funding for the Senior Resource Center ($436,790). 

Business and Employment Assistance ($3,850,000)

Business assistance ($2,500,000): Coudriet said grants will be prioritized for retail, leisure and hospitality, service, and child care businesses. The grants will be scaled in size based on the number of employees.

“We also wanted to push cash into the marketplace as fast as we can,” Coudriet said. “To benefit the community, to benefit our citizens, to, candidly, help make the county whole.” 

Nonprofit assistance ($700,000): Grants for nonprofits that were forced to discontinue operations at some point during the pandemic. 

Job training ($650,000): Six-week paid job training for 100 people in partnership with Step Up Wilmington; six-month paid internship and job placement for 10-20 other people. 

Revenue Replacement ($3,200,000)

The county proposed using this portion of ARP funds to reimburse its lost sales tax revenue, “to ensure the county remains on solid financial footing.” 

Housing ($3,000,000)

Mortgage Assistance: The county will offer assistance to homeowners struggling with mortgage payments because of causes related to Covid-19.

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