LOVINGTON — They didn’t ask for it and don’t know what to do with it yet, but Lea County Commissioners last week approved a resolution accepting $6.9 million from the federal treasury.
“I would ask that the board approve this resolution so we can make use of that $6.9 million even though we didn’t ask for it,” Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher told the commissioners during their regular meeting on Aug. 19.
Shortly after passage of the federal American Recovery Plan Act of 2021 early this year, signed into law on March 11 to offer relief from the impacts of COVID-19, Lea County officials received notification they would be receiving a total of $13.8 million. Other counties, cities and states also received promises of federal funds to help offset losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Lea County was allocated $13.8 million,” Gallagher said. “That amount is to be divided into two separate payments to Lea County. The first one being $6.9 million and then two years from now, we expect to receive the second $6.9 million payment. We have four years to spend the total amount of funding of $13.8 million.”
The resolution authorized Gallagher and/or Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Long to enter into and sign an agreement with the U.S. Department of Treasury to accept the first half of the federal gift.
The federal money will bump up a fiscal year 2022 budget already anticipating revenue of about $88 million.
“There are a number of different items that the board and county staff have discussed as to how best to use that funding,” Gallagher said. “As you know, we have about $23 million in projects at the county detention center. Those projects include the infirmary, a mental wellness unit and a few other items. Those are projects that the county staff thinks is a good use of the funding.”
Other uses under consideration include broadband, infrastructure, water projects and housing, the county manager reminded the commissioners.
“So there’s a range of different projects and uses,” Gallagher concluded, recommending approval of the resolution to enter the agreement with the federal treasury and accept the funds. “We’re not limited to those purposes or projects, but those are the ones we have discussed so far.”
Commissioner Jonathan Sena offered his suggestion in advance of the uses discussion.
“All of the above — if we can be a part of all of the things you mentioned, I think that would be good, (and) we could benefit as many people as possible in Lea County,” Sena said. “Even the economic development, we could work with companies in a positive way to bring in more jobs, infrastructure, housing, even the detention facility and broadband.”
Commissioner Pat Sims cautioned against setting up the county to create future expenses.
“I would like for (the ARPA funding) to be spent on something that doesn’t cost us in the future to maintain,” Sims said.
Gallagher concluded the discussion of how to spend the funds will be brought back to the commission for the regular meeting scheduled for Sept. 2.