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County accepts ARPA funds for projects

by EMILY BONSANT
Hagadone News Network | July 28, 2022 1:00 AM

BONNERS FERRY — After consulting with county attorneys, Boundary County commissioners accepted the first two American Rescue Plan Act payments for various county projects at the July 18 meeting – some in attendance were not pleased.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tevis Hull has been doing research on the ARPA funds for months on behalf of Boundary County. The commissioners had previously said they would accept the funds but had not decided if they would use the funds in the future.

That was partly due to the final rule not being available at the time of acceptance and the commissioners waiting for litigation to finish and to have more clarity on what executive orders or “strings” are attached to the funds.

Hull used an analysis from Bonner County. At the time of acceptance of the money in January 2021, any executive orders in place at that time is what the county is bound under. By federal case law anything executive order issued afterward would not apply, Hull said.

Commissioner Tim Bertling added that federal employees are bound by more requirements, but the county and other municipalities are not bound by those requirements. The motion was made and seconded to accept the funds.

The GOP nominee for Bertling’s seat, Steve Fioravanti asked commissioners if those in attendance could object to the motion. However, Commissioner Dan Dinning replied that the meeting was not a public hearing, but commissioners doing business.

Also in attendance were members of more conservative branches of the Republican party.

There has been no public hearing held or scheduled regarding ARPA funding, but during discussion in past meetings between Hull, commissioners and community members, including Fioravanti, have provided input usually against accepting the funds. Todd Engel, who ran for the Idaho Legislative District 1B House seat also has attended commissioner meetings inquiring on the status of accepting ARPA funds.

The commissioners accepted the two payments of the ARPA funds for various county projects in a 2-0 vote.

Hull told the commissioners after researching the ARPA funds and by studying a finding by Bonner County, Boundary County would be obliged to follow executive orders that were in place at time of signing, not any additional executive orders by the president of the United States.

Commissioner Dan Dinning told the Bonners Ferry Herald that due to the concerns from the public regarding possible “strings attached” to the funds, commissioners asked Hull to research what the strings might be. Before the July 18 meeting commissioners had not heard back from Hull on his findings.

Commissioners have waited for several months on accepting the funds until litigation and research by Hull could be completed. It had been Dinning’s motto to “sit tight” and wait to make a decision until more information has been gathered.

In response to questions by the Bonners Ferry Herald on why the commissions have held off from accepting the funds, Bertling said he wanted more clarification as to what the funds can be spent on. He added that information needed to be precise so the county would not need to pay back the money at a later date.

The county has until 2024 to dedicate funds and has until 2026 to spend the funds. Commissioners have said the money is in a trust account earning interest that the county gets to keep even if commissioners send the funds back. Until commissioners decide to send funds back or use them, the money is earning interest.

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