STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County commissioners will spend the long holiday weekend doing their ARPA homework, reviewing the stack of applications that came in during the past seven months for funding and figuring out how to they can get the most bang for their bucks.
Commissioner Tony Morelli said they’ll also be revisiting the corresponding opinions from their ARPA consultants, Bricker & Eckler, on whether the proposals are even eligible.
“All the requests were sent to Bricker & Eckler,” Morelli said after Wednesday’s meeting. “Some were very matter-of-fact, ‘yes, you can use it, take it out of this fund’ but others were not so clear. And some don’t meet the guidelines.”
Jefferson County had received $12.7 million in ARPA funds from the federal government, but there were strings attached — strict guidelines specifying how the money can be spent. In general, ARPA money can be used for investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure; premium pay for essential workers; to reimburse expenditures or negative economic impacts associated with the COVID pandemic, including assistance to small businesses, households, hard-hit industries and economic recovery; and to replace revenues government lost due to COVID.
Not all applicants submitted documentation demonstrating the adverse impact the pandemic had on their bottom line.
“We’ve got a list of all the applicants and we’re going to review them over the course of the next week,” Morelli said. “I would say most of them are good projects, but we can’t fund everything. We have a couple million dollars left and we’re going to look at how we can best spend that couple of million dollars, just like we have the whole $12.7 million (we received). We’ve worked very hard to make sure we’re spending that money wisely. Now we’re down to $2 million and we’ll see if there’s a project, or several projects, that we want to fund to move forward.”
At last week’s meeting, commissioners had ticked off several projects that had stuck with them — Commissioner Tom Graham had referenced restrooms at Steubenville Visitor Center at Historic Fort Steuben, while Commissioner Dave Maple brought up a TEMS proposal to use ARPA funds for a multi-purpose emergency response vehicle paramedics could use for outreach programs addressing opiate addiction as well as a community paramedicine program.
“To be clear, I brought up two projects last week,” Maple said. “But I wasn’t trying to show any sort of preference, I just wanted to revisit them all.” Maple pointed out non-profits had requested about $4 million aid.
“I can say right now I wouldn’t be supporting all the projects,” he said. “I wouldn’t say they’re bad projects, they just not ARPA projects.”
Morelli said in some cases, there might be alternative funding potential. For instance, he said Prevention and Recovery Board President William Holt had told him he “believes there’s money to allocate for a vehicle in other ways, so we wouldn’t have to use ARPA dollars.”
Requests also came in from groups including Urban Mission Ministries, Sycamore Center, Toronto Band Camp, Indian Creek Youth Football, the village of Stratton and a woman who makes lap blankets for veterans.
Morelli said he was at Tuesday’s Light Up celebration in Steubenville “and the crowd was fantastic.
“I know there aren’t going to be that many every night, every weekend, but I have seen buses pull in and people from out of town, the first thing they look for is restrooms. So, if we can help with (them), I’d be OK,” he said, admitting it would be even more intriguing if Steubenville City Council were to be involved.
“We’ve got to look at the list,” Morelli said. “I’m going to do my homework.”
Commissioners also will take a week to look at plans for a new small animal barn at Friendship Park.
“It seems like there’s a little confusion about how to proceed,” Morelli said. “We’re going to iron out the details and put it on the agenda for our Dec. 1 meeting.”
The proposed 7,200-square-foot structure is currently figured to cost around $250,000.
In September, the fair board’s Debbie Hukill had told commissioners they envision a metal building, with one side used primarily for rabbits and the other, chickens. A pavilion would divide the spaces, providing space year-round for dog training and meetings.
Hukill told commissioners the existing structure is heavily used, and conditions are cramped so it’s difficult to keep animals cool. She’d also said the fair board had obtained a $45,000 grant from the state that they could put toward the project.
At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners paid an $18,769 invoice from the architect working on the project, McKinley Architecture and Engineering, to cover basic services and reimbursable mileage expenses.
“The basic services fee is for the design portion of the project that is currently in the hands of the Ohio Department of Commerce being reviewed for the issuance of a building permit,” Project Manager Tim Mizer wrote. “It is estimated by that office that the building permit fee and subsequent site inspections will cost $1,849. When this permit fee invoice is generated, we will pay that amount and invoice the county.”
Acknowledging the $250,000 price tag for the current design is steep, Mizer said they could “look at getting pricing, better pricing.”
— Commissioners signed off on an agreement to purchase brine from the Ohio Department of Transportation. Chief Deputy Engineer Clay Merrin told commissioners the brine is used “to pretreat salt during snow removal operations.”
— Accepted a petition from the Salem Township Board of Trustees and signed by at least 12 property owners asking that they widen the Seamon Road right-of-way to 30 feet.
The courthouse will be closed today and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.