BUCKHANNON — On behalf of WV State Auditor JB McCuskey, Deputy State Auditor Anthony Woods came to Commissioners Thursday morning to provide an overview of government transparency efforts in the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and overall transparency. Joining Woods, Harrison County Commissioner Patsy Trescot also attended to elaborate on some of these details.
Woods asked Commissioners what their spending plans for their ARPA funding was at the beginning of the discussion. Commissioner Sam Nolte explained that they have been taking requests from several of the PSDs but have not yet made any decisions, as they’re waiting for the final guidance yet to be released from the state. Woods expressed they are still working on the final rule regarding the ARPA funding, but he is hopeful it will be released by the end of 2021.
The goal was to have the final guidance completed by September; however, talk of another shut down caused some delays, according to Woods. Nolte reiterated that they have been waiting to make any spending decisions regarding the ARPA funding until they receive the final ruling. “It is kind of an odd thing to receive money and we’re not sure what we can use it for,” he noted.
According to the Treasurery, if the Commission spends the money right now on some sort of project and it turns out the state changes the eligibility once the final guidance is released, they will be grandfathered in, according to Woods. “They want counties to utilize this funding,” he emphasized. If anything changes within the final guidance, he believes it will be regarding restriction on matching the ARPA funding with federal grants. This potential revision has come from a push from Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Senator Joe Manchin, he explained.
Woods also noted there is discussion about expanding the money to be utilized for disaster relief. “Kind of like a supplement to FEMA funding,” he clarified. This will potentially allow use of $10 million “straight off the top,” Woods added.
Due to the complexity of the matter, Woods also noted that they will be partnering with WVU economic development experts to hopefully present webinars discussing the best way to utilize this funding.
Outside the realm of ARPA funding, Woods also expressed to County Commissioners that they are working on a piece of legislation focused on dilapidated properties. As most realize, these dilapidated properties bring down the property value of everything else around them—and the process to remove or clean up the property is complicated and often times, prevents the county from being able to do anything about it. This is a huge issue that Upshur County Commission has faced recently and historically.
However, unlike the properties Woods mentioned, several of the property owners in Upshur County are paying their taxes—they just simply refuse to clean up their property. Commissioner Terry Cutright noted that they have a Safe Sites and Structure Board to address these issues, but “it has no teeth,” because they can’t legally force a clean-up. “We need legislation to help us with that,” he added. Cutright suggests legislation that allows them to clean these properties up and to take a lien on the house.
Woods expressed that State Auditor McCuskey will likely meet with Commissioners in person at the beginning of 2022.