Extension eases tightening demands for municipalities seeking pandemic relief
Some municipalities in the region were scrambling this week to submit requests for federal pandemic relief funding, with an initial deadline looming on Wednesday.
They got a break from this crisis when officials extended that deadline by one month.
The State Department of Community and Economic Development “began urging municipalities to apply as soon as possible once funding (the American Rescue Plan Act) was available just after Memorial Day,” the spokesperson said Tuesday. Department spoke, Casey Smith, noting that emails, letters and postcards used to reach communities.
“We just received an extension notice from the US Department of the Treasury, which will extend the time limit for disbursing all funds by 30 days. Smith said. “We always encourage all municipalities that have not yet applied – around 500 municipalities currently – to apply as soon as possible and to apply for their funds as soon as possible.
“Municipalities that do not apply will face no penalties or repercussions. They simply will not be able to access the available funding. “
As of Friday, 18 municipalities in Westmoreland County had not completed their submissions. That number was reduced to seven on Tuesday, as county officials worked to prevent communities from missing out on the combined nearly $ 2.5 million available to them through ARPA.
County Commissioner Doug Chew brought the issue to light on Monday evening in a statement to local media. County officials followed up on Tuesday by contacting municipalities that had not yet applied, according to county planning director Jason Rigone.
“Our help is just to make them aware that there is a deadline,” Rigone said. “Based on the responses, many are applying. “
This was the case in West Leechburg, where details of the paperwork hampered the borough’s request, according to vice-chairman Tim Grantz.
Grantz said Tuesday that the borough had started the process of applying for ARPA funding of up to $ 127,801 about a month earlier. “We applied,” he said. “We followed the procedure and were blocked by an additional form that they wanted notarized.”
The form, he said, concerned the borough that opened a bank account to receive the money. The document was initially rejected and had to be completed again, Grantz said, because the municipality’s name did not appear in the preferred format.
He said the borough was ultimately asked to “just submit the full application with the form, even if it was not approved.”
Federal guidelines require that ARPA dollars be spent within two years, with limits on how counties and municipalities can use the money. Broadband upgrades, water and sewerage projects, and reimbursements for expenses related to the covid-19 pandemic are among the permitted uses.
Grantz said replacing the sewer lines is among the potential uses West Leechburg has discussed, but council has yet to make a decision.
Westmoreland County has banked the first half of the $ 105 million in ARPA funds it is expected to receive and has already spent more than $ 300,000.
County Finance Director Meghan McCandless said about $ 257,000 of the grant was used to cover training and salaries for election judges and election officers during the May 18 primary. Additional funds were used to purchase face masks for the county jail, covid-19 tests and vaccination boards.
The first plans call for the county to use part of the pandemic relief funds to modernize and install new technology in the commissioners’ public meeting room at the courthouse and to expand broadband services throughout the county , McCandless said.
Commissioner Sean Kertes said the county should provide additional grants to nonprofit agencies and small businesses and is exploring other major capital improvements.
“Our lobbyists have told us to just sit on the money until we get a clue from the federal government whether there will be a slack in how the money can be spent,” Kertes said.
Irwin Borough Director Shari Martino said she was told the community was mistakenly listed among municipalities that had not submitted ARPA applications.
Martino said she had successfully submitted a notarized letter confirming that she was authorized to open an account for the $ 391,000 Irwin is to receive. But there has been a delay, she said, suggesting that the process may have been slowed down by the fact that the borough has had three different managers in the past five years.
Supervisor Kerry Jobe said Salem’s claim for $ 671,662 was completed Tuesday morning when the necessary signatures were put on.
Jobe said the township plans to tap the ARPA grant to offset a drop in local income. Stormwater and sewerage projects are under study.
“I’m interested in the projects the state and county plan to do with their money, so that we can get the big picture, or possibly combine efforts with a riparian municipality on a common infrastructure project,” Jobe said. “Once the guidelines are finalized and the money arrives in our account, we will feel better about the selection of projects. “
Chew suggested that “the county and local municipalities could create synergies by combining funds for maximum impact. I cannot believe that our common constituents cannot benefit from improved broadband or improvements to sewer or water supply infrastructure.
Among the municipalities in Allegheny County that were slow to complete ARPA applications, Elizabeth Township sought the largest grant, exceeding $ 1.3 million.
Township manager Greg Butler said on Tuesday the application was partially completed, as he waited for an identification number for the required bank account.
“A lot of things are involved in the request,” he said, expressing hope that it would be completed by the end of the day on Wednesday.
He said township officials had not started discussing how the money could be used.