Commissioners concerned about potential ARPA recipients

County has unspent relief money but questions remain on where to put it

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has just under $2.2 million left in uncommitted American Rescue Plan Act funds that county commissioners have not decided how to spend.

Several projects are under consideration considered for the use of $2,194,164 remaining in uncommitted ARPA funds, but during a work session Monday, commissioners decided some of the placeholder projects may not be ready or eligible to receive the federal dollars.

One of those projects was the Field Arts and Events Hall currently under construction in downtown Port Angeles. The project’s backers submitted an application for $300,000 to complete work — mirroring the $300,000 request approved by the Port Angeles City Council earlier this month — but during Monday’s meeting Clallam County Chief Financial Officer Mark Lane told commissioners he worries the project might not be eligible under the guidelines for the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

There were a number of issues with funding the project, Lane said. Among them, capital projects are not typically allowed under the U.S. Department of Treasury guidelines for the funding. Furthermore, the application had framed the project as an economic development effort, something Lane said also was prohibited under the guidelines.

“Could we potentially get there with this? It’s possible,” Lane said of the guidelines. “There are a number of restrictions that play into it in combination with themselves give me pause.”

The item was left open and Lane said he would communicate with the project’s backers regarding the board’s concerns.

Steven Raider-Ginsburg, Field Arts and Events Hall executive director, said Wednesday he is confident the project is eligible for ARPA funding.

“This falls into a gray area and we have to refine the application,” Raider-Ginsburg said. “There are a number of reasons that Field Hall qualifies.”

Raider-Ginsburg said construction was halted by the pandemic and suffered significant financial setbacks, the exact kind of situation ARPA was meant to address. Additionally, final rulings from the Treasury Department stated ARPA dollars could be used for purposes not specifically enumerated, Raider-Ginsburg said, which gave local authorities flexibility to spend the money.

The $50 million Field Arts and Events Hall was intended to be fully funded through donations, but inflation and economic shutdowns due to COVID-19 slowed donations and placed construction of the building, located at the intersection of Oak and Front streets, on a delay, resulting in a 14 percent increase in building costs, Raider-Ginsburg has said.

Regardless of the ARPA funding, Raider-Ginsberg said the Field Arts and Events Hall was on schedule to open in late July, 2023.

“This is project is financed and it’s going to happen. What we are doing is trying to mitigate the exacerbated costs due to the covid pandemic,” Raider-Ginsberg said.

“We are going to public sources for support because we are a charitable organization with a mission, we’re not a for-profit theater.”

Commissioners also expressed concern about $300,000 for a design work funding gap from the Dungeness Off Channel Reservoir. District 1 Commissioner Mark Ozias said though he wanted to see that project finished, he was hesitant to commit ARPA dollars without having first exhausted all other options.

“I’m going to agree with you totally,” District 2 Commissioner Randy Johnson said to Ozias’ suggestion. “I want to exhaust all other alternatives before we come back to this.”

Commissioners also were concerned about a request from United Way of Clallam County for an additional $20,000 for community meetings and its resilience project. According to Board of Commissioners Analyst Chelsea Miller, $12,000 would go toward continuing community meetings and $8,000 for resilience funds.

However, Lane said the request would mean the county would have to alter its agreement with United Way and create an alternate, sub-recipient agreement.

“A sub-recipient agreement would be much more involved in terms of the requirements and the oversight,” Lane said.

Commissioners remained committed to $500,000 for additional storage at the Sequim Food Bank and $49,380 to cover a budget shortfall in a water line replacement in the Black Diamond Water District.

Commissioners also were supportive of $775,000 to improve water quality and expansion of water services in the Carlsborg urban growth area.

Lane said he had recently met with Clallam County Public Utility District No. 1 staff about the expansion, and that work was being done to establish a more formal agreement between the two entities.

Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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