Local leaders remain undecided on how they’ll spend American Rescue Plan funds

BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) – Local governments of Brazos County and the Cities of Bryan and College Station remain undecided for the most part on how they’re going to spend the federal dollars they’ve received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The act is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress back in March to help the country bounce back faster from the devastation caused by COVID-19. Now that the dollars are coming in, local governments are starting to think about how to use them. Elected officials in Montgomery County, for example, are debating if some of the money should go to the first responders who have been on the front lines of the pandemic.

Brazos County Judge Duane Peters says elected officials here have started those discussions for the over $22 million they received in June, and that improvements to broadband internet is something being considered.

“When the students were staying home, if you lived out in the county, you had very limited broadband for, whether it was livestreaming or whatever, for children to try and get that education,” Peters said.

Peters says there have also been discussions about using it for a new mental health facility after Rock Prairie Behavioral Health closed last year or improvements to storm water drainage. Peters says in his opinion, the funding should be used on one-time expenses and avoid projects that could require ongoing costs that might up the county budget down the road.

“It’s a struggle when you’re dealing with folks who are in a mental crisis and not really having a place to go locally,” Peters said. “We may have to transport them to some other community somewhere that has a facility.”

However, stipends for first responders haven’t been addressed at this point. He says the county did spend some of its CARES Act funding on law enforcement.

“We haven’t had that discussion yet, and I know that that is one of the things that it can be used for,” Peters said. “It certainly has to be attributed back to COVID. That’s what this money is earmarked for.”

The City of Bryan has received over $21 million of rescue plan funding. Representatives from the city didn’t get back to us when we asked them about how they plan on using it, but the president of the Bryan Firefighters Association said in a statement they feel part of it should go back to the city’s first responders.

“We are very supportive of city management, their leadership, and directions, and believe infrastructure is important,” president Daniel Buford said in his statement. “But we also want to see an investment in all essential employees of the City of Bryan for the sacrifice they gave last year and continue to give.”

The City of College Station also released a statement when KBTX asked how it was planning on spending its funds, which said, “With the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant, we remain focused on addressing the immediate needs of our community. This evolving pandemic necessitates a steady, comprehensive assessment to determine the most effective uses of the funds granted through the American Rescue Plan Act. City staff plan to present options and recommendations to the City Council during our annual strategic retreat in early 2022.”

The City of College Station received nearly $29.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Peters says commissioners will have discussions with a consultant before committing any of the funding. Peters says this sum of money is roughly 10 times larger than any grant the county has ever received, and he hopes the consultation process will begin over the next couple of weeks.

“We have to have that money committed to something by 2024, and then spent by 2026,” Peters said. “We’ve got a window. We’ve got a little time that we can deal with it, and I think the best way to handle it is kind of how we’re doing it. Take a cautious approach and make sure that we’re doing things correctly.”

Written by Andy Krauss

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