That’s the amount of the last traunch of money Guilford County had to obligate by the federal deadline – December 31, 2024 – or commit the mortal sin of giving the unspent money back to the federal government.

Local governments across North Carolina and across the country are now eyeing that deadline of midnight on New Year’s Eve 2024. That’s the time by which counties and cities either have to obligate all of the American Rescue Plan Act and Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (a program authorized by the same American Rescue Plan Act) – or give it back.

The money isn’t really “free” money since it was paid by taxpayers across the country, including those in Guilford County. However, as one can imagine, no local government wants to return a dime to the federal government since that money can be spent locally.

 And there are plenty of needs that Guilford County, and the cities and towns within it, want to fund. That goes for other local governments across the state and the country as well.

            When the first batch of federal relief money began pouring into Guilford County several years ago, one Guilford County commissioner at that time privately referred to the scenario as one that reminded him of the movie Brewster’s Millions.  In that movie, the character played by Richard Pryor had to spend $30 million in 30 days (under a certain set of conditions) in order to inherit $300 million.  So the character just began spewing money everywhere.

This week, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners sent out a notice to county leaders in the state reminding them to spend the money so they don’t have to give it back – and the association is offering help to counties that may have trouble spending the funds before the upcoming deadline.

The notice reminded county leaders that funds that “are not obligated by December 31, 2024, must be returned to [the] US Treasury.”

Guilford County government has handed out millions to the county’s cities and towns for things like water projects and infrastructure needs.

 Money is fungible and some of the relief funds were reassigned to Guilford County projects where it could legitimately be spent now, and then the county could use the freed-up money from that reassignment of funds to spend later, at the county’s leisure, after the federal deadline has long come and gone.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners had determined how it planned to spend the last $104 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds for projects within the county. But many of the projects Guilford County wanted to use ARPA funds for couldn’t meet the deadlines – so Guilford County got creative.

Among eligible spending categories allowable for the ARPA money by law is one called “Revenue Replacement” – under which “the Treasury Department developed an annual revenue loss formula to determine the amount of revenue governments have lost due to the impacts of COVID-19.”

Earlier this year, Guilford County staff calculated that the county had just over $90 million in “lost revenue” that was eligible for the ARPA revenue replacement category.

According to the rules stated by the US Treasury, revenue replacement funds could be spent on the provision of government services, “which can include general fund expenditures, operating expenditures, and administrative costs, among a broad range of spending authorities.”

So, early in 2024, the county commissioners put the money toward qualifying Guilford County operating expenditures – which then freed up funds to support projects that were originally planned to be ARPA-funded projects. Since the move instantly changed federal funds into county funds, the federal deadline evaporated.

Here are some of the former “ARPA projects” that the Rhino Times has reported on that were subject to deadlines, but now have become “ARPA-enabled” projects that face no deadlines:

  • Windsor Chavis Nocho Community Complex – $15 million
  • Pleasant Garden Water/Sewer Infrastructure – $5.5 million
  • Recovery Housing – $3 million
  • Transitional Therapeutic Foster Care – $1.5 million
  • Broadband Initiatives – $391,880
  • Infant Mortality Programs – $85,000
  • EMT Academy – $393,052
  • Food Security Efforts – $774,926