HIGHLIGHTS + OTTAWA COUNTY
American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—Part Two
Published January 5, 2024
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners chose to use $39,742,630 of the ARPA funds for lost revenue. But, according to the January 25, 2022 and May 24, 2022 Board minutes, the Board only approved $31,712,572 in public meetings.
Simply American published American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—Part One on December 14, 2023
AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT
DISTRIBUTED MARCH OF 2021
”To date the County calculated $39,742,630 in revenue replacement and the Board of Commissioners approved the use of funds for the provision of governmental services.” —Ottawa County Recovery Plan Performance Report 2022
The final rule issued by the Department of Treasury on January 6, 2022, allows recipients of ARPA funds to calculate lost revenue and use the funds for revenue replacement.
Following are the events surrounding the ARPA funds at the January 25, 2022 and May 24, 2022 Board of Commissioner meetings:
• The Board unanimously passed a motion to use $11 million in ARPA funds for lost revenue
• Finance Director Karen Karasinski came to the podium and informed the Board that they had just approved the full $19 million in the budget adjustments, yet they only approved $11 million in the motion
• Karasinski clarified that once ARPA funds are used for lost revenue, those funds are no longer ARPA funds—they become General funds that are committed
• The Board passed a motion to use $20,712,572 in ARPA funds for lost revenue. It was a 10–1 vote, with Commissioner Doug Zylstra voting no.
• The Board referenced spending $19 million in January, even though the vote in January was for $11 million
• The Action Request for ARPA Project Funding claims that, “In January, the Board approved $19 million (2020 calculated lost revenue) for Public Safety Payroll expenses”
According to the January 25, 2022 meeting minutes, the Board approved only $11 million for lost revenue—not $19 million as stated in the May 24, 2022 Action Request. Meeting minutes are the official record of the actions of the Board and are legally binding.
So, who approved using ARPA funds for the extra $8,030,058?
Former Administrator John Shay informed the Board multiple times during the January 25, 2022 and May 24, 2022 Board of Commissioner meetings that using the funds as lost revenue would give them more flexibility.
Shay’s comments during the January 25, 2022 meeting:
• “If we have lost revenue, there is much less onerous reporting requirements and a little bit more flexibility on how we spend the money.”
• “We would have far fewer onerous reporting requirements and little more flexibility on how we spend that.”
The whole conversation about spending the $11 million and lessening reporting requirements took six minutes.
Shay’s comments during the May 24, 2022 meeting:
• “It does significantly reduce our reporting requirements from the treasury department.”
• “We’re trying to be more flexible on how we spend it, both in the legally allowable ways to spend it—timing wise, have more flexibility on timing, and also having much more reasonable reporting requirements.”
• “I think converting these ARPA funds to lost revenue savings, all it does is, we’re just setting that aside, and provides us flexibility on how to spend it, when to spend it, and less reporting requirements.”
The Board took eight minutes to spend $20 million in ARPA funds and lessen reporting requirements.
During the May 24, 2022 Board of Commissioners meeting, time suddenly became a topic. Commissioner Zylstra told other commissioners that he would be voting no on the motion to spend $20 million more in ARPA funds on lost revenue, saying that he would “like to see us take steps and stages, stage our way through.”
Chairman Matt Fenske confirmed that the Board would proceed in phases.
Fenske’s comments during the May 24, 2022 meeting:
• “We may have a series of phases.”
• “It’s my understanding from our meetings, that we are going to phase this into a couple of different phases.”
• “Out of the three bucket managers that presented, I think one was kind of ready to perhaps roll out by September or October. I think we have plenty of time.”
As of the May 24, 2022 meeting, bucket manager contracts had not been signed, yet the commissioners already had spent $39 million in ARPA funds—and only took a total of 14 minutes to do so.
A Lot Happens In Six Months
During the January and May meetings, the Board used ARPA funds to pay for lost revenue, stating that the benefits of doing this would be flexibility in how and when they would spend the funds, and a lessening of reporting requirements.
Something happened between the May 24, 2022 Board meeting where more time was requested and the November 22, 2022 Board meeting when the Board approved $46,435,887.71 in projects in just over three hours—with some commissioners hearing about the projects for the first time.
Time was no longer an issue. Taking steps or doing things in phases no longer mattered.
So, who all received the money and what are they doing with it? Who is oversighting these funds?
In 2022, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners took three hours to spend $46 million. During the process, the public learned that the Board wanted to lessen reporting responsibilities. Wouldn’t the past Board have wanted Ottawa County taxpayers to know where their money went?
It has been a year since ARPA funds have been distributed. Where do the projects stand?
Stay tuned for Part Three.