To date, Lebanon County Commissioners have committed to spend nearly $22 million of the $27 million the county received through the federally funded American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, was designed to aid public health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lion’s share of Lebanon County’s funding has been designated to address a major public health-related issue across the Lebanon Valley through construction of a new $30 million 911 Center, according to county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.
The current 911 Center sits in the basement of the county building in the City of Lebanon and is prone to flooding during extreme weather events.
“As of today, there’s $21.7 million that’s been committed,” Wolgemuth told LebTown after the commissioner’s June 16 public meeting. “A vast majority of that is the tower network for 911 and building the 911 Center. $18.6 million of it is for that (project).”
Slated to open in the summer of 2023 in the 1800 block of Cornwall Road in North Cornwall Township, the center will house administrative offices, a training center, and an operations building to house the county hazmat materials, equipment and supplies.
At prior public meetings of the county commissioners, Chairman Robert Phillips had lauded the new center as a necessity that will benefit the health and well-being of all Lebanon countians.
At its recent June 16 meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to spend $2.1 million in ARPA funds for retention payments for “county employees who worked from March 20, 2020 through June 13, 2020 as well as other COVID matters.”
The payment scale runs from $1,000 through $10,400 to eligible employees in the county’s non-union, Chocolate Worker’s, AFSCME and Detectives Association unions, and payments were effective on June 22, 2022, according to Michelle Snavely, director of Lebanon County Human Resources.
Other stipulations mandate that workers are “currently employed as of the effective date of the ARPA Bonus Retention program, have ‘active status,’ and have worked throughout the 12-week shutdown,” added Snavely.
At the meeting, Phillips praised these workers for their dedication to the citizens of Lebanon County.
“I’ll just add that these are those employees during that 12-week period that really stepped up when needed because public safety does not take a vacation,” said Phillips. “Many of those folks worked in the unknown because no one knew where this was heading and they answered the call. Through ARPA, we’ll be able to recognize the good work of our employees.”
Wolgemuth noted that not only was this funding initiative for public safety workers and those who provided critical services but also individuals who supply support services, which he said “broadens the circle (of eligibility).”
“Initially it was believed that ARPA would allow for correctional officers, dispatchers, healthcare workers at Renova — that sort of thing,” said Wolgemuth. “But as the final rule came out and interpreted the legislation that, for those people to be able to do their jobs, you also need, then, the managerial people, the payroll people, even the buildings and grounds people, you know, to maintain the facilities that stayed open and so on and so on.”
Wolgemuth said the move by county officials to reward retention is not unique and noted that Lebanon County’s retention payment parameters were modeled after what other counties were doing.
“ARPA’s aim here was retention,” said Wolgemuth, “and they’ve stayed. This is a recognition of that retention. That’s why there was eligibility criteria.”
When asked how many total county employees would receive payments, Wolgemuth initially said the total is in the hundreds but that number was expected to expand since the county was still negotiating retention payment terms with the Teamsters union.
Later, after checking employment records, Wolgemuth told LebTown that 284 employees would receive payments as part of the unanimous action taken during that meeting to approve the retention program.
“There are another 94 individuals in the Teamsters bargaining unit and we estimate another $600,000 in payments (to them), which will make it $2.7 million for the retention program,” added Wolgemuth.
Not all of the ARPA funding available to Lebanon County has gone to local government agencies.
Over $1.4 million has been distributed to non-government organizations, including: $750,000 to the Workforce Empowerment Center Inc., Myerstown; $400,000 to Lebanon Valley Rails-to-Trails (LVRT), Cleona; and $252,360 to the Mount Gretna-based Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick.
At its Feb. 17 meeting, the commissioners approved the funding request to WEPA to build a Tec Centro facility at 9 S. Ninth St., Lebanon.
Rafael Torres, founder/CEO of WEPA Empowerment Center, said at that meeting that the ARPA funds will be used to provide opportunities for Lebanon County residents to receive community-based workforce language and training skills. The building was formerly an Elks Lodge and more recently served as a church.
“This is for everyone to get the skills and to get the training that they need to become marketable members of our community,” he told the commissioners in February. “I’ve had to continue the studies, and the numbers are not good. They talk about students in the local school district and 90 percent of them are barely making it, their homes are barely making it.”
Torres added that opportunities for adults to improve their lives will also exist at the workforce empowerment center.
“We need to take care of them and provide opportunities for adult members of the community,” he said. “It’s not that we’re doing the work for them, but bringing opportunities for them to get better. So we will look at them in a holistic way.”
Wolgemuth said just over $3 million in requested ARPA funding is pending final approval of the commissioners.
Those still-to-be-approved projects with tentative ask amounts include:
- $900,000 to LVRT.
- $900,000 to the Lebanon Area Fair.
- $600,000 to the Expo Center.
- $600,000 for retention payments to eligible Teamster members.
“The numbers all come down to $21.7 million committed,” said Wolgemuth. “$3 million, 50 thousand that has been asked but not finalized, which totals $24.7 million. So, completely unencumbered is the remaining, roughly, $2.5 million, so we’re getting down there.”
Wolgemuth added that all ARPA funds must be disbursed by the county by the end of 2024.
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