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Permitted county ARPA use unclear

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It remains unclear whether or not Platte County will be able to use its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for utility infrastructure under new guidance from the United States Treasury on Jan. 6.

County-level allocation information from the treasury indicates that Platte County can expect to receive slightly more than $6.5 million thanks to the federal COVID-19 economic relief package.

"(The City of Columbus was) authorized to use their money for infrastructure -- we were not," District 6 Supervisor Jerry Engdahl said at a Jan. 4 Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting where Columbus Exposition and Racing member Tom Jackson requested ARPA funds to build utility infrastructure for a casino and horse track being planned near Columbus.

On Jan. 4, board members indicated that the City of Columbus has already committed ARPA funds to utility development, but Engdahl remained uncertain about whether counties could use ARPA funds the same way.

"I still think all of that refers to cities," Engdahl said.

The board didn't take any action on the ARPA funding request on Jan. 4.

"I would refer this to our legal staff to see whether or not we can legally do this," Board Chairman and District 2 Supervisor Jerry Micek said at the meeting. "The main thing is we get it in writing that this is a project that can be done with these funds."

However, things may have changed since the Jan. 4 meeting. On Jan. 6, the treasury released new guidance on how ARPA funds may be used by various government entities. It's too early to say whether the casino's request may be eligible, though, because the new guidance is still being deciphered.

"Key changes...included new flexibility to use Recovery Funds to invest in broadband infrastructure, services and programs to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including capital investments in public facilities, and investments in housing and neighborhoods," a page on the National Association of Counties (NACo) website said on Wednesday afternoon. "NACo will release an in-depth analysis of Treasury’s Final Rule in the coming days."

In the meantime, the casino isn't the only entity interested in the county's ARPA funds. On Tuesday, Habitat for Humanity of Columbus Executive Director Lori Peters told the Telegram that Habitat is on the agenda for the board's upcoming Jan. 18 meeting to ask for ARPA funds.

However, the board has indicated in recent meetings an intention to use ARPA funds for possible broadband development. Broadband came up again during the ARPA fund discussion at the Jan. 4 meeting.

"We have not been able to find that we could do anything, right now, except broadband," Engdahl said. "We've been looking for ways to spend that money."

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at molly.hunter@lee.net.

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