Supervisors approved an agreement with the county’s financial advisor to determine the eligibility of a number of American Rescue Plan Act-funded projects, which were authorized by the board more than four weeks ago and resulted in a debate with elected officials on Aug. 2 about the hold-up.
Jasper County has $7.22 million in ARPA funds. On July 5, the board of supervisors voted in favor of dispersing about $150,000 to five projects: new EMS storage racks and emergency radios, as well as donations to American Legion Post 111, astronomical observatory and the county fair board.
However, the supervisors approved the resolution pending further review from the county’s financial consultant.
The board of supervisors this past week authorized financial advisor Public Financial Management (PFM) to assist the county and determine the eligibility of these projects and whether they align with the federal government’s guidelines. It will also advise the county on additional communication with the feds.
Although PFM will bill the county on an hourly basis, the cap is set at $25,000. Parrott doubted the bill would be anywhere close to that amount, referencing a letter from PFM — included in agenda documents — in which Davenport had a project cap of $30,000 and only had to pay $9,590.
Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop, who is the chairman of the 11-person ARPA committee, asked for a timeline on the dispersal of funds, noting that some projects may be time sensitive. Jasper County Auditor Parrott said those receiving funds may have to wait longer because of an authorization issue.
“I’ve been contacted by most of the organizations that we told we were going to give them funds,” Bishop said. “Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take for them to be allocated those funds? … The amount was approved and then it came to the contract. So these organizations are asking—”
Parrott responded, “They need to be patient, Doug. I mean, I get it.”
“I think they’ve been very patient, actually,” Bishop added.
AUDITOR SAYS IT’S AN AUTHORIZATION ISSUE
When Jasper County first received its ARPA funds last year, Parrott later told Newton News he had to register with the website SAM.gov, the entity he claims authorizes any ARPA expenditures. But since the county did not spend any ARPA funds in that first year, Parrott said he had to re-register.
Parrott said he tried to re-register in April, and then again in May, to no avail. He also found out that the information he submitted into the registration form for Jasper County to be re-verified did not match the previous one.
On June 28 the county ARPA committee met and voted on the immediate needs projects. By July, Parrott contacted SAM.gov for an explanation of the issue and submitted a claim to fix the problem. Other county auditors and ARPA fund administrators in Iowa are experiencing the same problem, he said.
After the supervisors meeting, Parrott sent an email to the county ARPA committee to explain the situation. The SAM.gov website is not recognizing Jasper County as an agent to spend the money, he said in the email. He also copied an email from an ARPA fund administrator experiencing the same thing.
“It’s a disaster,” Chuck Vandenberg, the ARPA fund administrator from Lee County, said. “We had to send documentation to confirm information that was already in their system. It’s because they got a bad data dump from Dun and Bradstreet in April during the transition.”
Parrott reiterated this information to supervisors, too. In Parrott’s email to the ARPA committee, he said he knows the entities want their money sooner rather than later, but he is “going to jump through all of the hoops” and follow the federal laws and rules in spending this money no matter how long it takes.
‘FOLK ARE WAITING ON THIS MONEY’
Parrott and Bishop continued their back and forth in the supervisors chambers. Bishop disagreed with Parrott’s description of ARPA funds as “free money.” Parrott retracted and said the federal stimulus is tax dollars, but he stressed the groups need to have patience.
“We’re going to give them the money. We’re getting it as fast as we can. We’re going to give this to PFM. They’re going to review it and tell us what we have to do to approve SAM’s recording. We’re not going to be able to do anything through SAM until they get their act straightened up,” Parrott said.
If any of the entities have any questions or issues, Parrott told Bishop to have them call him. Bishop asked why they would call him rather than a supervisor. Parrott said the board of supervisors isn’t handling the administration part; the board handles the expenditures.
Bishop said, “I would hope you understand their frustration. We put the committee together. We went through the full process. We allocated funds. Now we’re saying we didn’t allot the funds. We did allot the funds in that amount. There’s a contract that’s been in place … These folks are waiting on this money.”
Understanding there are rules that need to be followed, Bishop argued the county has not done a great job of communicating with the groups when they have already been told they have been allocated these funds. Parrott said the county cannot spend any money until SAM.gov verifies them once more.
COMMUNICATION NEEDED FOR ARPA COMMITTEE
As chair of the ARPA committee, Bishop was frustrated this was the first time he had heard about this issue, which has seemingly persisted for months. Parrott said he was not present during the meeting in which supervisors approved the ARPA committee’s request in the first place.
“I don’t know how much the amounts were. I wasn’t here to tell you that we got issues,” Parrott said. “I’m telling you today we’ve got issues… I got an email yesterday that tells us that it was Dun & Bradstreet that sent bad data. I just found it out. So how could I tell you?”
However, Parrot was present during the June 28 county ARPA committee meeting and had even voted against the $150,000 dispersal.
Bishop asked Parrott from this point forward to share this type of information with the ARPA committee. Parrott then said all the ARPA committee is for is to advise the board and have no other power. How the federal stimulus is spent is up to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, he said.
“That’s all it is,” he said. “It’s just a committee that was to look at the projects and say, ‘Hey, these are good ones. Would you guys please consider these projects?’ That’s it. That’s all the authority that we have.”
Again, Bishop brought up a point he made when the immediate needs projects were approved by supervisors: Why even have the ARPA committee? Parrott said the federal government required public input. But now those rules have changed. Bishop asked if it is time to disband the committee.
“That’s up to the board,” Parrott said.
SUPERVISOR ASKED TO WEIGH IN
Bishop asked the supervisors to give their perspectives on the conversation between him and Parrott. The county treasurer acknowledged he was putting supervisors on the spot but he wanted to know their thoughts on the ARPA committee “because there isn’t any communication going on.”
Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said the ARPA committee did what it was supposed to do, which was to give recommendations. The board acted on the recommendations, but Talsma said until the SAM.gov situation gets cleaned up he believes the county cannot allocate any money.
In addition to the immediate needs, the ARPA committee expressed interest in establishing a countywide EMS service. But supervisors wanted further estimates before acting on the project. Talsma said once the county gets those estimates, the committee can determine what to do with the rest of the money.
Jasper County Supervisor Denny Carpenter said it would be good if this new information was communicated to the ARPA committee. Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples said he appreciates the ARPA committee and voted as such. Cupples is in agreement that he wants the process expedited.
Talsma said, “But I don’t think any of us knew SAMs wasn’t working until yesterday.”
Bishop asked that the supervisors and auditor keep that line of communication open to the committee members and to send an email to the members explaining the situation. A lot of people, Bishop said, are asking them and other elected officials about when they will receive their money.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or [email protected]