Lebanon County has spent over $25 million of the nearly $26.1 million received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.

To date, the federal funding has been allocated to 11 projects with others still to be decided – possibly as soon as the next meeting of the Lebanon County Commissioners on April 18, according to chairman Bob Phillips. 

Under the law, counties have until the end of 2024 for their funds to be allocated and 2026 for the money to be used.

LebTown asked county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth what potential projects are on the county’s radar. He declined to provide details since commissioners are still weighing their options on how to distribute the remaining balance of approximately $813,000.  

“There are a couple of things floating around from different commissioners that aren’t really consensus yet, so until they would be motions to allocate, I don’t want to say, ‘Well, commissioner so and so raised this one as a concept.’ I don’t want to get into that because then they are on the bubble,” said Wolgemuth. 

The county has plenty of options to consider when deciding how to designate the remaining funds.

“In general terms, you kind of hit it there, another five to seven projects based on some of the things that I’ve heard, but nothing formal committed,” said Wolgemuth. ”There’s plenty of need out there. When you get down to the end of it, you want to make sure you do it wisely – not to say that we didn’t do that with the rest.” 

LebTown asked if needed improvements to the county municipal building are on the table.

“That is a possibility, very much of a possibility for that,” said Wolgemuth. “That would easily fit some of the categories for funding.”

Read More: Lebanon County officials say they aren’t in any rush to fill old city office spaces

No matter how the remaining dollars are disbursed, Wolgemuth said the county will continue to closely follow the federal guidelines to ensure compliance with the regulations.

“From the county’s perspective, we’ve been very careful with the proposed projects to ensure they fit into the defined categories,” he said. “The information was voluminous that the federal government put out there and we got familiar with what we could do, that there was a tie back to how we could use the funds. We followed the spirit and the intent of the act.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s website lists some of the major funding categories, which include:

  • Support public health expenditures, funding for COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and certain public health and safety staff.
  • Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector.
  • Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic.
  • Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand access to broadband internet.

The federal government passed ARPA in March 2021, during the height of the pandemic. By July, Wolgemuth said the county knew its share ($26.07 million) of the $1.9 trillion the feds placed into the program. 

The stained glass that is part of the former Elks building in Lebanon will greet adult learners who come to Tec Centro as part of WEPA’s outreach to the community. Created in 2011, WEPA co-founders Rafael and Mirabel Torres received received ARPA funding to purchase and renovate the building as an effort to improve workforce development opportunities in the Lebanon Valley. (James Mentzer)

“The first disbursement was in August of 2021 and it went to WEPA,” added Wolgemuth, who has kept meticulous records since the government requires quarterly reporting through the end of the program. 

Here is a recap of the 11 projects Lebanon County has funded so far, the county agency or ARPA program designation, how much was distributed, and project description:

1. 911 Tower project – Department of Emergency Services, $11,984,479 – This project, which is ongoing, will refit the county’s first responder communication network. The goal is to increase first responder coverage throughout the network, including the more rural areas of the county and urban spots where communications are spotty. Additionally, the system is at the natural end of its life cycle with its current technology, and the county must upgrade it to be compliant and compatible with other 911 communication systems. (Note: Some borrowed funds from 2021 are included in this project cost.) 

“Each project has to have some connection or tie back to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, of course, was the whole purpose for injecting this funding across the country,” Wolgemuth said. “One of those categories is public health expenditures, including communications, enforcement, et cetera. This is communications for all first responders who relied on the network for responding to certain aspects of the pandemic. If we can gain a few percent of additional coverage, that’s important.”

Read More: Commissioners move to upgrade county’s public safety radio system

The recent purchase and outfitting of a new mobile 911 command operations center is also included in this funding. 

Read More: Annville company outfits Lebanon County’s new 911 mobile comms ops unit

2. New 911 Center – Department of Emergency Services, $6,434,667 – This funding also falls into the category of public health, communications, enforcement, etc. The new center will be for 911 dispatch, first-responder training, continuity of government, and will serve as an emergency response operations center. 

“As part of this project, some of this space is to increase capacity to respond to a pandemic,” said Wolgemuth, adding that the area would be utilized to store supplies related to a potential health crisis. “Most were caught unprepared without having a stockpile of certain PPE and other supplies. We, like many others across the country, just got whatever we could, wherever we could get it. If you remember, we even appealed to the public to get that stuff. We didn’t even have a place to go with it once we got some of it.”

The 911 Center is set to open this year after delays in the certification and delivery of critical infrastructure prevented that from happening late last year.

Read More: New 911 Center construction project on schedule; set to open this summer

An artist rendition of the county’s 911 Center upon completion. (Submitted photo)

3. Public Sector Employees – Provide premium pay for essential workers, $2,941,148 – Lebanon County provided additional pay to county employees in eligible categories for work performed after the start of the pandemic. This category allows for employees in public health, emergency response, corrections, social services, human services and other sectors to receive extra compensation as designated by the county commissioners. These were individuals who were considered essential infrastructure and critical workers during the pandemic, according to Wolgemuth. 

4. Lebanon Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) – Outdoor Recreational Activities, $1.35 million – This funding is supporting various phases of construction and improvements to the county’s rails-to-trail project, which will total 25.7 miles when completed in 2027.

“A lot of people got outside during the pandemic, they were able to distance and the act recognized a number of things like that,” said Wolgemuth about this category.  

LVRT president John Wengert said the organization has used ARPA funding for land acquisition ($258,000), new equipment, a storage shed and vehicle repairs ($28,000), and a large portion for engineering and other project costs. 

“We spent $90,000 for additional engineering required under Phase 6D, which is the crossing of Route 422 and going around the mall,” said Wengert. “We spent $400,000 for the DCNR match for Phase 10A and we spent $50,000 for additional design work on Phase 6C. We have $500,000 left, roughly, so that means we’ve basically spent $850,000 of that $1.35 million.”

The arrival of ARPA funding couldn’t have been timed better for LVRT officials. 

“The timing of it was perfect because of these needs, the local needs, that we typically cover, which are land acquisition, design and engineering, which normally comes out of some sort of local coffers,” said Wengert. “The fact this money was infused in the system at this juncture was perfect timing for us when we’re about to really embark on major activity on the northern extension. The small change stuff – the maintenance-type tractors and equipment – were nice since that supplements the general fund.”

Of the balance, Wengert said the organization will target, “Additional land acquisitions coming up, but beyond that, I have not identified any specific uses yet – but we will.”

Read More: Lebanon Valley Rail Trail set for completion in 2027

5. Lebanon Area Fair – Aid to Tourism, Hospitality and Travel, $950,000 – One of the county’s biggest annual events, held in July, the county fair board used ARPA funding to enhance safety at the fairgrounds, specifically by installing a new lighting system and upgrading and adding more bleachers at the track. (This funding is separate from an additional $650,000 provided to the Lebanon Valley Expo Center, which is listed at No. 7.)

Fair board representative Dan Siegel told commissioners in December 2022 that “the scope of the project is bleachers and, at the same time, improving the lighting to both the track itself and the surrounding areas. The areas where the crowds are will have better lighting, better safety, and more efficient lighting than what we have now.”

Read More: County to underwrite improvements at fairgrounds with $1.6M of ARPA funds

The fair board had presented a detailed budget with its original proposal that when completed would:

  • Add 2,450 seats to the track area and make it code-compliant for wheelchair-accessible seating – $465,000.
  • Upgrade the track area lighting system, including the placement of eight new poles – $275,000.
  • Excavate, concrete, and landscape the track area – $160,000.

The fair’s grant proposal also included a $50,000 contingency, for a total of $950,000.

Read More: Lebanon fairgrounds, gem of the county, undergoes renovations

6. WEPA’s Tec Centro Lebanon – Negative Economic Impacts, $750,000 – This category is designed to provide assistance to unemployed and underemployed workers, and touches job training, subsidized employment and employment supports or incentives. 

“WEPA, with the concept of having a job training center in Lebanon, bilingual, all of those things address the negative economic impact and work capacity under public health,” said Wolgemuth. “This funding was largely for the acquisition of the property to be used for a training center.”

Located at 9 S. Ninth St., Lebanon, the old Elks building is being renovated this summer with adult workforce educational classes set to begin this September.

Read More: WEPA prepping to provide adult education classes this fall

7. Lebanon Valley Expo Center – Aid to Tourism, Hospitality and Travel, $650,000 – The expo center board spent their allocation on the resurfacing of the parking area for attendance at events and adding new paved surfaces to portions of the fairgrounds. This project was supposed to have included traffic safety improvements to the entrance on Rocherty Road.

“There was a problem and they would have needed a light at the entrance but it was too close to the next lighted intersection at Rocherty and Cornwall roads,” said Wolgemuth, who added that the expo center and fairgrounds is the county’s largest visitor-drawing facility.

8. Clarence Schock Park at Governor Dick – Outdoor Recreational Activities, $270,360 – The park board requested funding so the boardwalk at the park’s environmental center could be completed. 

“The walkway for use by the public and it also expands ADA accessibility to the park,” said Wolgemuth. “I think they are – or will use because I don’t believe they’ve used it all yet – for improvements to the tower and things up in that area at the top of the hill. This funding is all related to the facilities there.”

Read More: Governor Dick Park unveils newly completed ADA-accessible boardwalk

9. Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce – Negative Economic Impacts, $79,000 – The local chamber received funding to conduct a workforce study to enhance economic development in the Lebanon Valley. That report, as covered by LebTown, was released earlier this year.

Read More: Chamber seeks partnerships for workforce study recommendations

10. Department of Emergency Services – Public Sector Capacity, $74,900 – This funding was for a countywide law enforcement technology upgrade. 

“The capacity, in this case, is for police departments to effectively deliver services,” said Wolgemuth. “This is a software program that stores and makes retrievable all of the calls made by law enforcement.”

Wolgemuth said an example of this use is if a call came in for an infraction in one township or an interaction and then another incident happened in another locale. 

“A call happens in North Lebanon Township and there is an infraction or maybe an interaction with a police officer, but then two hours later, they are pulled over in South Lebanon Township for some infraction,” he said. “As it existed, there was no way of one department knowing the other had an interaction. This technology provides for that.”

Read More: Newer technologies will upgrade 911 Center, enhance public safety

11. Department of Emergency Services – Support Public Health Expenditures, $1,079 – To purchase additional COVID tests after the county’s stock was running low. “It’s a small one, but we were still getting requests for supplies at that time,” said Wolgemuth.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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