BY KARISSA MILLER

Iredell County commissioners have begun discussing how to best spend more than $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

ARPA funds are allocated by the federal government to help state and local governments offset COVID-19 related revenue losses.

So far, Iredell County has received $17,656,842 in ARPA funding. The county will receive the same amount again in the spring of 2022, boosting the county’s total allocation to $35,313,684.

During a workshop with commissioners earlier this month, county staff shared all of the funding requests from various departments. Some of the items included premium pay for county employees who have worked during the pandemic, AED machines for the Sheriff’s Office, air purification for the Iredell County Public Llibrary.

Chairman James Mallory said the board is beginning to plan how to best utilize the funds. The county has until the end of 2024 to obligate the funds and the end of 2026 to spend the money.

“We want to take a deliberate approach and really evaluate all of the requests. We’ve asked all the municipalities to give us some ideas on how they would like to spend the funds,” Mallory explained.

According to Finance Director Deb Cheek, all projects must meet the criteria of the U.S. Treasury Interim Final Rule. Personnel from the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office have advised the county on what expendtidures are allowable.

Guidelines for ARPA funds are less restrictive than those for CARES Act funds, which have to be directly related to COVID-19,..

“One thing Covid has had a significant impact on is the availability of childcare, after school care and elder care. A lot of working families have to provide for and there’s simply not enough of those services providing daycare options as they were pre-COVID 19,” Mallory explained.

“We want to help our workforce get back to work,” he added.

Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent. It’s now around 4.5 after reaching nearly 14.7 percent in April of 2020.

Premium Pay for County Employees

During the October 19 board meeting, commissioners unanimously approved their first ARPA expenditure. The county will set aside up to $2.5 million premium pay for county employees, Cheek said.

It was noted during the pre-agenda briefing that premium pay is not a bonus, but a “one-time lump sum payment” for employees in all departments that provided essential work during the pandemic.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, County Manager Beth Mull deemed all employees essential. Essential work is defined as in-person work. It cannot be performed from a residence and while teleworking.

The following is the base calculation that was used to determine each employee’s payment, which is not to exceed the per person maximums:

Hired on or before December 31, 2020
• Full-time: $2,500
• Permanent Part-Time: $1,250

Hired on or after December 31, 2020, but before July 1, 2021
• Full-time: $1,500
• Permanent Part-Time: $750

Cheek explained to commissioners that the county had to make clarification, which is the “150-percent rule.”

“ARPA money is targeted towards low-income families and employees. We had to look at the state average and the county average income. If this one-time payment put an employee at 150 above that, then employees weren’t eligible for this payment under ARPA,” Cheek said.

There were 74 employees who weren’t eligible under those guidelines and they will be paid out of CARES Act funding, she added.

The county manager explained that the premium pay policy is modeled after the federal guidelines and qualifications.

“Employees need to understand we are giving them the maximum we can under these guidelines,” Mallory said.

Mull said that the finance office has worked tirelessly on this policy. She thanked Cheek and Budget Analyst Caroline Taylor for their hard work drafting this premium pay policy and for undergoing extensive ARPA funding training.

Mull said the finance staff is training six hours each day for six days to make sure all of the county’s projects meet the federal guidelines.

1 thought on “Iredell commissioners making plans to utilize $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds; employees to receive premium pay for essential work during pandemic

  1. During the COVID 19 pandemic, one of our businesses was eligible for assistance funding (PPP) in an amount of slightly more than $4,000,000. We did apply for those funds and received them in 2020. We were not sure if we were going to need all or any of the funds when the pandemic started, but out of an over abundance of caution we applied. While we found that there were several ways for the company to use the funds in accordance with the program rules, we determined in the fall of 2020 that while we were due the receipt of these funds, our business survival did not depend on the use of these funds, and our Board of Directors elected to return the funds. I share this story only because it seems that Iredell County is trying to find ways to “spend” the money they have received, and it is not clear that it is required or necessary.

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