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Council uses ARPA funds to purchase used snow blower

by EMILY BONSANT
Hagadone News Network | January 27, 2022 1:00 AM

Story has been updated for accuracy.

BONNERS FERRY — The council chambers were packed Jan. 21 when a large number of residents turned out to speak out against the council receiving American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Signs reading “No” and “No ARPA funds in Bonners Ferry” were on display as the council met for the special meeting. Present were council president Rick Alonzo, and council members Brion Poston and Ron Smith. Councilwoman Valeria Thompson called in and Mayor Dick Staples was absent.

Smith said that he wished he had not tabled the proposed allocation of ARPA funds received by the city the past meeting.

Despite claims at a past meeting that Shoshone County had refused ARPA funds, Smith said he found that was not the case and that the county will be accepting the funds and using them.

Bonner County has turned down the funds not because of legal advice. From a story by the Bonner County Daily Bee on Nov. 3, 2021, Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler requested the Bonner County commissioners return the $18,486.11 in ARPA funds from the sheriff’s office to the county.

Following a Jan. 5 workshop, the council tasked city staff to seek projects that prioritized spending by support of general fund expenses where applicable, create long-term investments with limited long-term liability and reduce the overall impact to the taxpayer and citizens in Bonners Ferry.

City Administrator Lisa Aliport said staff has discussed what the general fund department needs and have come up with a suggested list of how each project can be supported in part, or in whole, by the ARPA dollars.

“Based on what we’ve read from the U.S. Treasury publications, the money must be incurred by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by Dec. 31, 2026,” she said.

With the adoption of the Final Rule and the ability to use the allocated ARPA dollars for government services, the city staff moved to purchase a 2014 snow blower to replace the 1960 era model that the city is currently using.

With parts for the current snow blower no longer being made. The city mechanic has to fabricate the parts to keep the blower going.

Staples said that without the current mechanic, the snow blower would not have run for as long as it has.

Aliport said that the council is leveraging ARPA funds to invest in damaged city equipment in order to be fiscally responsible and to have equipment that can run for decades to come.

In response to the list of requirements for ARPA funds, Staples said ARPA has fewer requirements than other grants that the city has accepted.

While Alzono said he wanted the council to table the discussion until the next regular meeting, the owner of the 2014 snow blower in South Dakota needed an answer by the end of the week. So the council scheduled a special meeting to approve the snow plow in order to not miss out on the used piece of equipment.

Aliport said a used blower avoids the supply chain issues that the country is currently facing. Also a used plow was in compliance with the ARPA requirements. ARPA funds before could only be used for response to the COVID-19 health emergency, provide premium pay to workers, replace lost revenue or make necessary investment in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

These government services include construction of schools and hospitals, road building and maintenance, and other infrastructure, health services, general government administration, staff and administration facilities. In addition, environmental remediation, provision of police, fire, and other public safety services including the purchase of fire trucks and police vehicles.

The federal government has studied lost revenue across the U.S. over the past year, Aliport said. As a result, officials expanded use of ARPA funds to general fund projects that would have been paid by the taxpayers.

The city of Bonners Ferry looked at general fund expenses that would have been paid by property taxes, bonds or levies and are looking to use ARPA funds for those projects.

Aliport said because of these ARPA funds, the taxpayers are saved from paying that cost.

The city doesn’t receive funds from the federal government, Alonzo said. The money goes from the feds to the state and then the city receives the funds from the state of Idaho.

Idaho Representative Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, reached out to the Treasury for more information on the ARPA funds. In a letter from Deputy Director Paul Headlee of the Idaho Legislative Service Office, the official said eligible funds must fall within one or more of four possible funds. Those include responding to the COVID-19 health emergency, providing premium pay to workers, replacing lost revenue or making necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. Funds may only be used in compliance with section 602(c) and 603(c) of the Social Security Act.

Alozono said after all the research was done by city staff, council and local representatives receiving the funds looks safe. The goal is to save taxpayers money and to invest in the city.

“It is a one-shot deal and we want to invest these funds into the city,” he said.

“We are not trying to grow the government, but replace existing equipment,” Aliport said.

Alonzo said that the protesters present at the Jan. 21 meeting seemed to think this was the first time the city had received federal funds. There are a list of projects around town that were created with federal funds such as the sewer bridge, golf course and the city water tank.

Before signing on the dotted line, the parameters of receiving these funds are known, Alonzo said. For ARPA it took longer to know the parameters as the Final Rule has been released and is not in effect until April 1, 2022, he said.

Brion Poston presented his information at the meeting and said that Dixon released his findings and that there were no “strings attached.”

Members in attendance at the Jan. 21 meeting responded that “Dixon would agree to the ARPA funds since he is a communist.”

Before the motion was passed, audience members watching from the hallway began chanting, “send it back, send it back.”

The council approved receiving the ARPA funds to purchase the snow blower.

City council meetings are the first and third Tuesday of each month in Council Chambers at City Hall. Agenda information can be found at www.bonnersferry.id.gov