Butler County ready to give out remainder of pandemic relief money for local projects

The Butler County commissioners are gearing up to allocate the remaining $22.1 million of the $74.4 million they received in federal coronavirus relief funds, and a couple entities are making a second push for the money.

The commissioners have already allocated $52.3 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds to 15 outside agencies and the rest for county projects. The board approved subrecipient agreements with three more entities that should receive the funding next week according to County Administrator Judi Boyko.

She said it has taken a little time to push the money out — the commissioners made their decision on first round funding in July — because there were a number of requirements the grantees had to satisfy.

“We required all the documentation from all of the subrecipients prior to releasing the money,” Boyko said. “Those are attestations to following the reporting portal, submitting their cost allocation plans and also internal policies on how they handle expenses and revenues.”

The three agreements were with Miami University ($5 million) for the College@Elm Innovation Workforce Development Center; Middletown ($3 million) to down the ruined Paperboard site and Great Miami Valley YMCA ($1.5 million) for Booker T. Washington Community Center renovations. The commissioners previously approved agreements with the Butler County Visitors Bureau ($750,000) to recoup funds lost during the pandemic and Primary Health Solutions ($520,526) to refurbish their dental van.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The county’s slice was $74.4 million.

Rather than keep all the money in-house, the commissioners decided to share the windfall with other governments and groups. The county received an eclectic array of funding requests totaling more than $200 million including economic development projects, help for the homeless, propping up small businesses, park and bike trail expansion and a new county morgue to name a few. They ranged in price from $24 million for new advanced aviation and manufacturing training centers in Middletown and Hamilton to $125,000 for healthcare worker training.

ExploreCOVID-19 relief fund recipients: Money will benefit many Butler County residents

There are roughly 20 projects that did not receive funding in the first round and Boyko told the commissioners three entities want to discuss their projects further, namely the city of Fairfield’s Ohio 4 redevelopment, MetroParks’ Great Miami trail project and Oxford’s plan to create a “one-stop shop” for social services.

Fairfield officials asked for $9 million for Ohio 4 redevelopment, to extend the Great Miami River Bike Trail and a new sewer line. City Manager Scott Timmer told the Journal-News they are trying to “proactively touch base” so “we hope to learn what, if anything, we can do to provide clarification on our project requests.”

MetroParks submitted a request for $11.5 million, including:

  • $6.5 million to create a county-wide scenic waterway overlook system
  • $4.5 million to fill gaps in the Great Miami River trail corridor
  • $254,500 to recoup lost rental and license fees due to the coronavirus pandemic
  • $213,474 for sanitation systems and equipment for buildings and parks
  • $40,100 for first responder radios for park police
  • $20,356 for large tents

Katie Ely-Wood, supervisor of community and park relations for MetroParks, told the Journal-News since they submitted their request MetroParks has received a $200,000 state capital grant for the trail gap project, and is awaiting news on an additional $1.3 million grant request. She said that project is their top priority.

“The scenic overlook project request hasn’t been pulled from MetroParks’ initial ARPA funding request, but we are focusing heavily on the GMRT gap completion project,” Ely-Wood said. “That project has the most energy behind it and will make the most positive impact in Butler County.”

The city of Oxford was looking for $1.5 million for a one-stop social services center and homeless shelter. Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene told the Journal-News she is still updating her proposal but the price is now about $3 million.

The second largest project the commissioners have awarded to date is $10 million for countywide high speed internet access. Boyko said they received three proposals, one was rejected and the evaluation committee she convened to vet proposals will be meeting later this month to compare the two offers and make a recommendation to the commissioners.

The commissioners held five weekly work sessions on 32 funding requests last year and vetted the various asks individually, the projects that advanced were those all three agreed upon. There were other projects submitted by county offices and departments the commissioners did not meet with in work sessions — a few office holders made pitches during budget hearings — but are also considering.

Commissioner Don Dixon said they have not necessarily closed the door on new submissions but they haven’t received any yet.

“We’re always open for anybody who wants to have a conversation and make a submittal,” Dixon said. “There’s no hard and fast rule that they can’t make that request to the county.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she hasn’t received any more requests and she wants to close the submissions.

“I believe that our communities are well aware of the issues they faced during the height of the pandemic and what thy need to recover,” Carpenter said. “So I believe the requests we have for the remaining dollars are appropriate, we take on additional requests then we lessen the opportunity for those that have already presented.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he has had a few small requests “but it’s not anybody who wanted a big project.” He said after they get through the upcoming budget hearings with office holders and departments they can concentrate on doling out the rest of the ARPA money.

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