From long term projects, like building a strong child care network, to urgent capital improvements, such as replacing an elevator in the Santa Barbara Main Jail, Santa Barbara County has plenty of issues it could address with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
During a June 1 Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors meeting
, 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said that his priorities for the money are child care and housing.
SCREENSHOT FROM YOUTUBE
ONE-TIME FUNDS The American Rescue Plan Act gives jurisdictions a unique opportunity to fund projects that might have otherwise sat on the backburner for years to come. These are a few of the big picture projects the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has in mind.
“It is intimidating for this board to contemplate housing because of the scale of the problem, but when home values have risen 83 percent in one year in the South Coast, that is an existential threat to our community, from the perspective of having a workforce, being able to run a business, and having generational continuity,” Williams said. “And it is definitely an existential threat to people of color as they’re being pushed out of this community.”
The county is receiving a total of $86.6 million from ARPA that must be spent by December 2024. Half of the money will be available for fiscal year 2021-22, and the other half in 2022-23.
County Assistant CEO Jeff Frapwell explained at the June 1 meeting that there are two distinct buckets of ARPA money for the board to consider: restricted and discretionary.
The restricted dollars, roughly $25.3 million for 2021-22, must be used for response and recovery directly related to COVID-19 and its effect on the community. It could fund behavioral health services, housing relief, economic impacts, and more, though more clarification on what the funds can be used for is forthcoming from the U.S. Treasury.
Staff recommended that the county use $7 million of the restricted funds for a homeless shelter in Isla Vista. But, Frapwell explained, it’s possible that other funding might come down the pipe that could cover such a project—in which case staff recommended using that instead of ARPA dollars.
The board has the most say over discretionary ARPA dollars: the estimated amount of general revenue the county lost as a result of the pandemic.
This roughly $18 million can be used for general government services and to fund eligible capital and one-time projects. Staff recommended that the board allocate $4 million to transportation projects and nearly $5 million for Tier 1 priority projects. The latter includes things like replacing the boiler system in the Santa Barbara Courthouse or getting a new central elevator in the Santa Barbara Main Jail.
Frapwell said that while these projects are not as glamorous as other potential uses of the discretionary money, they’re urgently needed. Even with funding these projects, the board would still have just more than $9 million in discretionary ARPA funds to allocate to longer term projects.
Some of those larger scale projects the board is considering include building a strong child care network, open space acquisition, developing recreational trails, expanding camping opportunities, affordable housing, library construction, and more. During public comment, the majority of speakers advocated for funding to go to child care or housing.
“The challenge is, how do you make meaningful change in the long run, in a sustainable way, with one-time money?” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart questioned after the staff presentation. “That’s just hard. But being smart at the beginning is the best way to make a difference in that regard.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino agreed that a thoughtful approach is necessary.
“I know the pressure is on for people—‘let’s access this, let’s get to it, let’s fix problems,’” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to do more if we wait longer.”
Board members’ priority projects and issues will be discussed further at the June 8 and 10 budget hearings. Supervisors’ unanimously approved the staff recommendations to use discretionary ARPA funds for transportation projects and the Tier 1 capital projects.
“This is the beginning of a very long conversation over the next two years,” Board Chair and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson said before the unanimous vote. Δ