Boone County has access to an influx of federal COVID-19 funds, and county officials are asking the Boone County Council to use the funds for upcoming projects.
The county has been allotted $13.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, which are to be separated into two installments, but officials can only use the funds by first submitting projects they want to use the funds for to the Indiana Finance Authority for approval, Boone County Commissioner Tom Santelli said.
“The commissioners are defining the projects, and we are working with the (county) council on the approval of these projects for funding,” Santelli said. “Once we have that, we can go to the IFA with the defined project and have them release the funds against that project.”
During an Oct. 12 council meeting, multiple officials requested the council consider using the funds from the federal government to fund county projects. The American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed in March, aims to provide grants to small businesses, counties and other organizations in response to the COVID-19 emergency and “bring back jobs,” according to the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury.
Boone County Judge Lori Schein, Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood and Boone County Community Corrections Executive Director Michael Nance are working in unison to establish a county drug court. Drug courts allow people who qualify to receive treatment services and case manager assistance in finding employment and housing while undergoing regular drug screening. Boone County’s drug court, once established, would be administered by the county’s circuit court under Schein.
To date, just under $180,000 is in the drug court’s fund line, but the three county officials said they are requesting the council allot $85,000 to pay for a court administrator. Recently, they were told Boone County already receives the maximum amount of grant funds it can receive for community corrections, which was how they initially hoped to fund the position. They said the council could allot ARPA funds to pay for the position and that the drug court is expected to pay for itself over time, eliminating the need for continued funding from the council once the court is established.
“Our hope is to basically fund this for three years,” Eastwood said of the drug court. “Our intent is to have three years worth of data, three years of stories, then talk to the various people to help fund this to make sure we have funding moving forward.”
Nathan Messer, president of the Boone County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the COVID-19 pandemic hindered the bureau’s progress by at least five years.
“The ARPA funds can be used for tourism, and over the past two years our tourism industry and hotels have taken a hit,” Messer said.
Before the pandemic, Boone County hosted, on average, 39 events a year, Messer said. In 2020, the bureau sponsored 50 events, and in 2021 it has sponsored 55 events. Of the 50 events in 2020, Messer said “most were approved early in the year before we felt the effects of COVID on the tourism industry.” Some of the events still happened, but others were rescheduled or canceled. Any unspent funds were returned to the bureau. The 55 events this year were approved early on and continue to come in. The number of events brought before the bureau continues to increase each year, Messer said, but the pandemic has caused some funding issues.
“Currently, our account balances are less than $400,000,” Messer said. “Going into 2020, we had $650,000, and that’s how we try to base our balance of cash on hand. With our current cash on hand, we can’t even meet what we’ve done in this year’s budget, let alone what we were expected to do, and we were on about a 20 to 25 percent yearly growth rate with all the added hotels we were getting.”
Messer told the council during a presentation that ARPA funds would help the bureau continue to support the community in the future.
The council, during its Oct. 12 meeting, approved a letter of intent to use ARPA funds for a Thorntown wastewater project. It did not hold a vote on other requests because they were part of a presentation, and no action was before the council.