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Carroll County commissioners consider how to spend federal COVID-19 relief dollars

Ripper
Ripper (Carroll County Times)

As local governments plan how to use federal COVID-19 relief dollars, Carroll County commissioners are reviewing a number of potential projects brought forward by various department heads.

The American Rescue Plan provides $350 billion to help states, counties, cities and tribal governments to cover increased costs and replenish lost revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments are being released to governments in two parts, with half being directed now and the other half next May.

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Maryland counties will share $1.1 billion in aid, and state municipalities will split a similar sum.

During a fiscal recovery funds presentation on Thursday, Roberta Windham, county administrator, told commissioners although the county is slated to receive about $32 million in federal aid, there are a total of 54 county projects being proposed which total $57 million in overall spending.

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“Staff have been working to identify projects that the board might be interested in using this funding for,” she said.

At the meeting, commissioners were briefed for the first time on project packages from four different county departments. Among the requests for funding were two new full-time positions: a grant monitor costing $285,000 for three years and a broadband project manager costing $625,000 for five years. Funding for both positions include benefits.

“We are asking you today to make a decision on the staff recommendations of creating two different positions,” Windham said, so they can “have the proper people in place by the fall to start implementing the plan as soon as possible.”

Deborah Standiford, grant manager for the county, said the grants monitor would be a contractual position. They would be responsible for looking at the guidance for grant spending, working with different agencies and ensuring record retention.

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“If we get audited … I want the records to be pristine,” Standiford said.

Mark Ripper, director of county technology services, said the broadband project manager would provide oversight on various project, coordinate federal and state opportunities, help manage multimillion-dollar fiber projects and “create a strategic plan to efficiently connect as many properties as possible to the internet.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the creation of the two positions, but over the next several weeks will have to consider which other projects they would like to move forward with. Although final allocations will likely not be made until the fall, commissioners plan to hold several meetings to openly discuss how they plan on allocating the funds.

Among those proposals, Ripper is offering seven, one which would require $15 million to provide fiber connections to more than 3,000 unserved and underserved premises in the county.

“The idea here is to close the digital divide,” he said, using public/private partnerships which incentivize local internet service providers to build last mile connections by lighting properties quickly and efficiently.

The county’s citizen services department offered explanations of four proposed projects with their top priority being a family shelter relocation.

Celene Steckel, director of the department, said they’d need $152,000 to complete the design and engineering phase.

“There are limitations with the current family shelter,” she said, adding more grant funding will become available to them once they get a design for the new building.

The sheriff’s office, the circuit court, land and resource management and the department of public works also presented a number of projects for commissioners to review.

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