County dissolves federal aid committee, unallocated funds on hold

(Photo Source: Cortland County).

Cortland County dissolved its Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Thursday, after having less than a million in unallocated American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds.

The unallocated funds, along with any leftover money from projects approved by the Legislature that come under budget or fall through, will remain untouched until 2024. According to Legislature Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2), the county is sitting on $611,877 in unallocated ARP funds.

The county received $9.2 million in ARP funds and will have to allocate them to economic development and infrastructure projects by 2024. County administrator Rob Corpora said the funds will have to be spent by 2026. 

“We need to not spend the rest of this money until we have a solid direction,” Corpora said.

Legislator Paul Heider (R-LD-16) and Harbin suggested the funds be left unallocated and used to start the county’s broadband internet infrastructure. 

“(The lack of broadband internet) affects the way our employees live, our business opportunities, and it is affecting our future,” Heider said.

The funds will ultimately remain on hold until county officials find a project that fulfills the requirements and betters the county, according to the resolution. Any further business related to ARP funding will now go through the Finance and Administration Committee. 

You can watch the discussion on ARP funding here at minute 13, and also at the 30-minute-mark.

The committee at Thursday’s meeting approved three project proposals. One of the proposals, which is a complete overhaul of the county legislative chambers and upgrades to the HVAC system on the third floor of the county office building, can be seen here.

All of these requests will go to the County Finance and Administration Committee for approval and would then move to the County Legislature to be voted on.

Funding for Cortland County BDC 

The Cortland County Business Development Corporation (BDC) requested an additional allocation of $300,000 in federal funds at Thursday’s meeting.

The BDC had previously received $300,000 from American Rescue Plan funds to fund three programs meant to help small businesses with facade improvements, business development expenses, and to help small businesses in downtown districts across Cortland County. A rundown of those programs are here.

BDC executive director Garry VanGorder said the program was successful. 

“Initially we had 86 applicants who were looking for more than $700,000 in funding,” VanGorder said. “We narrowed that down after our review by 16 projects and $140,000. At the end we had 70 applicants and $556,117 in grant funding requests.”

VanGorder detailed the corporation’s review process.

“We have made determinations as to what programs might best support the small businesses and we advertised the availability of the resources. (We) talked about the differences between the three programs,” he said. “It was a very comprehensive process, but it was one that I think went very well.”

VanGorder noted the corporation’s review was thorough, but the program had its shortcomings. This new round of funding would continue to fund applications.

“We did not fund the business assistance program,” he said. “We did not fund any requests under the facade improvements program. Those facade improvement requests alone total a little over $250,000.”

Eric Mulvihill, the BDC’s economic development specialist, said the bulk of the funds could go to proposals previously screened by the development corporation.

“We have some applications that weren’t as competitive and we could take another look at them,” Mulvihill said. “We had folks who couldn’t get their estimates together in time. We tried to be very fair to the guidelines and stick to the rules and regulations set up during the first round of funding.” 

Legislative chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD8) called the second round of funding a “good investment.” He noted that businesses all across the county have been considered for the program.

“For me personally, this is what ARP funding is for,” Fitch said. “This was for businesses, to help kickstart them back. What you wonder is would we have had businesses that didn’t fail if we had started this sooner?”

County Mental Health Building Renovations

The County Mental Health Department requested $2 million in ARP funds to renovate the county mental health building at 111 Port Watson St. in Cortland. 

Legislature clerk Savannah Hempstead said the Mental Health Department Director Sharon McDougall applied and secured $3 million in federal grants, with a $2 million match for the county.