County commissioners in 14 of WNC’s 18 counties have determined how to use all of their American Rescue Plan Act funds, but spending plans for the region’s remaining $26 million are still underway in Buncombe, Burke, Haywood and Henderson counties.
Local governments began receiving ARPA funds in May 2021. The money could only be used for specific purposes — addressing public health concerns, replacing lost revenue, expanding broadband and providing premium pay.
Unspent ARPA dollars account for about 15% of Western North Carolina counties’ total $177 million ARPA allotment. These undetermined funds must be allocated before the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026 to comply with U.S. Department of the Treasury guidelines.
If the money is not spent, it is returned to the federal government. Once returned, local governments no longer have access to millions of dollars in funding designed to address the social and economic wreckage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information on what ARPA can be used for and how Western North Carolina’s counties have earmarked and spent the funds so far, a breakdown can be found here.
So, what’s the plan for the more than $26 million ARPA funds left in Western North Carolina counties? Carolina Public Press followed up with county officials who still had spending decisions to make.
Where are the remaining funds?
About 57% of the undetermined ARPA money — about $15 million — is in Burke County.
Located on the eastern edge of the region, Burke County is home to roughly 87,000 residents — making it the third-most-populous county in Western North Carolina.
Burke County officials spent roughly $2.6 million in ARPA funds on hospital improvements, administrative needs and infrastructure projects shortly after
receiving the first installment of their more than $15 million ARPA allotment more than a year and a half ago.
These projects fell into the general categories — public health, water/sewer projects, revenue replacement, premium pay — that the Burke County Board of Commissioners approved in August 2021.
Since then, commissioners have not voted on ARPA planning.
Carolina Public Press contacted Burke County officials from February to October of this year for ARPA updates. In February, Burke County Manager Margaret Pierce said the county “was still working to determine how the funds will be used.”
“With the final rules just released from the U.S. Treasury in January, we will be working with commissioners to identify their priorities and eligible expenses,” she emailed Feb. 2, referring to the Treasury’s guidelines for ARPA spending.
The Department of the Treasury released its final ARPA guidelines in January. Many WNC government officials said the delayed guidelines — published nearly a year after ARPA money was first distributed — made determining projects difficult.
Even so, many officials who cited Treasury’s delay as a cause for slow planning have now appropriated all of their counties’ ARPA funds. Burke County has not.
In an Oct. 20 email to Carolina Public Press, Pierce said there were no updates to the county’s ARPA plans, and she did not know when more decisions would be made.
Haywood County has the second-largest remaining ARPA amount with more than $6 million still to be allocated.
In April, Haywood County commissioners voted to appropriate half of their $12.1 million ARPA allotment to pay county staff salaries, expand broadband and bolster the local education system.
Haywood County Manager Bryant Morehead said the county is still figuring out how to spend the rest of the recovery money but that using it on local education is a top priority.
“What we had hoped to do was to take a half million dollars and get more devices — some sort of laptop, maybe some sort of hotspot if the kid doesn’t have internet — to expand the ability for them to learn at home because they have lost hours over the last year,” he said.
Morehead said Haywood County commissioners will likely revisit what to do with the remaining funds at the start of 2023 “unless something pops up that needs immediate attention.”
The last remaining dollars
To date, the counties, which received a collective $68.5 million in ARPA funding, have used 95% and 92% of their allotments, respectively.
In September 2021, Henderson County commissioners approved using ARPA to fund COVID-19 antibody infusion clinics at AdventHealth and Pardee medical centers.
Throughout the year, commissioners also approved using ARPA money to reimburse the county employee insurance program, expand broadband, assist the county’s towns with emergency services and infrastructure projects, transform the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Hendersonville into a community center and more.
As of October, 94%, or roughly $21.6 million, of Henderson County’s ARPA dollars were accounted for, according to County Commission documents. The county received a total of $22.7 million.
Henderson County spokesperson Kathryn Finotti said there is no internal timeline for appropriating the remaining funds.
Buncombe County, home of Asheville and WNC’s most populous county, has earmarked all but about 8% of the its $50.7 million allotment.
The vast majority of the $46.8 million already appropriated is going to assist nonprofit organizations with projects in affordable housing, early learning, domestic violence intervention and small-business assistance.
Babies Need Bottoms, WNC’s only diaper bank, and Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina, which is using the $3 million from ARPA to establish a permanent supportive housing location, are among the recipients.
County commissioners will decide how to spend the remaining $4 million in 2023, Buncombe County spokesperson Kassi Day said.
Buncombe County’s July appropriation was the region’s most recent ARPA movement — meaning WNC county officials allocated 85% of ARPA funds roughly within a year of receiving the money.
With only 15% of the funding left and more than two years to make spending decisions, there’s little to suggest that local officials will not allocate the remaining $26 million in ARPA funding by Treasury’s 2024 deadline.
Shelby Harris a Carolina Public Press staff writer, based in Asheville. Email her at [email protected] to contact her. Carolina Public Press is an independent nonprofit news organization dedicated to nonpartisan, in-depth and investigative news built upon the facts and context North Carolinians need to know.