County seeks information from entities interested in grant administration

·4 min read

Oct. 12—EAU CLAIRE — The American Rescue Plan funding task force discussed hiring a third-party administrator and how to design its grant application process during its meeting Monday.

Based on input from task force members, Eau Claire County will put out a request for information to gauge how many organizations qualify to potentially serve as third-party administrator, a key position in the distribution and reporting of millions of ARP dollars.

The ARP funding task force is in charge of recommending what area businesses and nonprofits should receive federal COVID-19 aid that the county was awarded as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The third-party administrator will work with the task force on grant application criteria and will maintain reports on how grant money was spent.

The County Board during its Sept. 21 meeting approved allocating $2 million of ARP money for businesses and nonprofits, and more money will likely be allocated in the future. During the same meeting, the board also allocated $70,000 for a third-party grant administrator.

The action taken Sept. 21 was the second ARP allocation approved by the County Board and brought the county's unspent ARP total to about $14.8 million. The federal money must be allocated by the end of 2024.

During Monday's task force meeting, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf recommended that the county hire the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as its third-party grant administrator. The county has worked with the regional planning commission on several similar projects, and Schauf believes the organization has the necessary resources and experience to handle a multi-year granting process.

The task force received information on previous granting processes the regional planning commission has done with nearby counties. Those processes could serve as a guideline for the task force as it develops its grant application criteria.

Other task force members agreed with Schauf. Altoona City Administrator Mike Golat said it "makes enormous sense" to work with the regional planning commission, noting that he has worked with the organization on past projects.

"I think it's a perfect fit," Golat said.

However, several task force members said there should be a more open process for additional organizations to apply for the role of grant administrator. County Board Supervisor Zoe Roberts said the county should allow other organizations to "at least take a crack at" determining if they meet the job requirements.

Because of those sentiments, Schauf said the county will put out a request for information from additional organizations. She will then provide an update to the task force at its next meeting, a date for which still needs to be set.

One key qualification to serve as third-party grant administrator is experience with federal grant writing and reporting. Tim Sullivan, county corporation counsel and task force member, noted that if reporting errors occur, the county could be forced to repay substantial amounts of money to the federal government.

Schauf expects that the regional planning commission will ultimately be selected as third-party grant administrator.

"I think we'll end up back here, but we can at least understand if there are others who are interested in perhaps administering this process," Schauf said.

Whichever entity is ultimately chosen as the third-party grant administrator will review applications from businesses and nonprofits hoping to receive ARP money. The administrator will grade the applications and discuss them with the task force, which will then make recommendations to the county Administration Committee on which applicants should receive money.

Before the task force can make recommendations, though, it must outline its grant application criteria and priorities. None of the priorities are finalized, but Schauf said the application process is expected to include pre-application counseling. That lets a business or nonprofit determine if it qualifies to receive ARP money before applying.

Schauf hopes the applications are finalized "with all deliberate speed."

Norb Kirk, county finance director and task force member, noted that applications for businesses and nonprofits will likely not be the same, so the task force must determine if and how the applications will differ.

Monday marked the task force's second meeting. Because of the quantity of money available and the thorough process that accompanies dispersing federal money, the next few years are expected to be intensive for the task force.

"Even though on the surface it seems like it's going to be a fairly quick process, I think that there's really quite a bit of activity that will have to occur to make this happen," Schauf said.