County Commission considers how to use federal ARPA funds

As part of a June 1 work meeting, the San Juan County Commission received a report on the American Rescue Plan Act and the anticipated $2.9 million the county will receive from the federal government.

San Juan County Administrator Mack McDonald reports the county stands to receive $2,973,400 from the act. The funds have a longer spend period than the money the county received through the federal CARES Act in 2020.

McDonald explained the deadline for the county to spend the funds or have a contract to spend the funds is December 31, 2024. If the county uses the funds for a contract that goes beyond 2024, the work must be complete and all funds expended by December 31, 2026.

Additionally, McDonald explained the funds can be spent in five primary ways, including to support a public health response; to address negative economic impacts; to replace revenue lost in the public sector; to pay premiums for essential workers; and for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Commissioner Bruce Adams pointed out there may be additional funds coming to the county through the act. An additional $1.5 billion in federal aid will be distributed to public land counties, such as San Juan, later this year.

The State of Utah is receiving $1.6 billion, Adams says he hears that counties might consider holding onto funds as the state legislature may make available matching funds from their $1.6 billion.

“Maybe we ought to not get in a hurry to spend this $2.9 million so we can use it as a match and maybe get an additional $2.9 million or something like that from the state of Utah,” said Adams.

How exactly the county will spend the American Rescue Plan Funds was not decided at the work meeting. However, Commissioner Adams did identify financial compensation of county employees as something he sees as a priority.

“I know the San Juan School District just gave a six-percent salary increase to all of their employees in the school district,” said Adams. “We haven’t given a cost of living or any kind of raise to any of our employees for the past two years, almost two and a half years.”

McDonald says that is something they are looking into and shared with the commission that department heads are hearing from county employees who are asking about the county plan for raises. 

“It’s definitely on the forefront,” said McDonald. “It’s getting harder and harder to recruit for and keep staff when surrounding here is paying more,”

McDonald mentioned rising wages paid by Moab businesses are enticing San Juan County workers.

McDonald added, “We will lose employees if we don’t reverse course and try to figure out something.”

Other possible ideas for the funds include investment in infrastructure, including two possible water studies in Spanish Valley and La Sal to help the county keep up with growth in those areas.

No decisions were made regarding how the funds may be used, but the commission did agree to the terms and conditions set by the Treasury as part of their consent agenda in regular session.

Also, in regular session, the commission passed a resolution encouraging the Navajo Nation Land Department to enter into a lease with Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) to allow the entity to lease a communication tower on Navajo Mountain.

Installation of towers throughout the county has improved virtual health care options for residents and emergency responder communication.

The resolution encourages the Nation to expedite the lease while there is available funding through the CARES Act to complete the project.

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