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Published in Economic Development
Grand Haven’s pier. Grand Haven’s pier.

Ottawa County approves $32.7M in ARPA funds for community projects

BY Wednesday, November 23, 2022 01:45pm

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners has approved allocating $32.7 million in federal stimulus funds for 24 community projects, over some objections that an incoming slate of commissioners should get to vote on project funding.

The county board on Tuesday capped off more than a year of planning how to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. The county received $56.6 million in total ARPA funds in 2021, and previously approved $11.3 million for several projects, including two affordable housing developments. 

The board on Tuesday approved funding for two dozen projects, as well as an additional $2 million for an affordable housing revolving loan fund, increasing the county’s revolving loan fund contribution to $10 million in ARPA funds.

Adding to the housing fund is a “worthwhile investment and we have the money,” said County Commissioner Doug Zylstra.

“The biggest thing (companies) complain about is housing for employees: They do not have enough housing,” added Commission Chairman Matthew Fenske. “I say we take a stab at it.”

Housing Next submitted the request for the county to create an affordable revolving housing loan fund, and is searching for a community development financial institution (CDFI) to partner with that would operate and administer the revolving loan fund, as MiBiz previously reported. The point of the revolving loan fund is to come alongside private investment groups and fill funding gaps.

Ottawa County Administrator John Shay told commissioners Tuesday that there is “no rush” and they can allocate more funding in the future, though most commissioners supported and passed the project recommendations. A couple of commissioners noted that the future board, which will include several new members following this month’s election, might not support additional funds for affordable housing.

Several community members spoke against ARPA proposals during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. That includes Georgetown Township Treasurer Michael Bosch, who said the recently elected commissioners who take office next year should get to weigh in. 

Eight new commissioners will join the Ottawa County Board in 2023, each of whom are supported by Ottawa Impact, a conservative political action committee. The group posted a statement to its website on Nov. 19 criticizing the current board for “rushing” the process of allocating ARPA funds.

“We ask the current Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to pass the torch gracefully and allow the remaining ARPA funds to be put to use in service of the voices and needs of the entire county under the leadership of the new county commissioner board in 2023,” the statement reads, in part. 

Elizabeth Butler, director of economic development strategic directions for the Grand Haven Chamber of Commerce, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the ARPA process was anything but rushed. 

“A lot of work has gone into these proposed projects and the public had an opportunity to provide input as well,” Butler said. “The projects are not being rushed. The (ARPA) taskforce met in July 2021 and have been meeting regularly for the past 17 months. These projects are not being added at the last minute.”

After the housing revolving loan fund, the next largest ARPA allocation is $7.5 million to Holland-based outdoor education provider ODC Network. The nonprofit seeks to reduce the gap in child care capacity by 10 percent over the next three years by working with the Ottawa Intermediate School District and local businesses to create 1,000 additional child care spots across the county. The ODC Network proposes locating the new and expanded child care centers across the county using local employer sites that would be accessible to employees and the general public.

 

Projects funded

Here are the rest of the projects that were approved for ARPA funding on Tuesday:

  • Recruiting and retaining mental health professionals ($1 million): Funds would support hiring an additional six to 10 psychiatrists who would work with other health care organizations across the county to help people who need medication for their mental health. 
  • Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) staffing expansion ($211,750): The CAC addresses child abuse cases and has a long backlog of cases from the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding would help hire more staff to catch up on the backlog over the next two years.
  • Reach for Recovery staffing expansion ($337,500): Funding would allow the substance use treatment organization to expand and stabilize its Medication Assisted Treatment program and enhance primary health care services for residential clients.
  • Direct care providers certification programs: Four organizations that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities would work with Grand Rapids Community College and Community Mental Health of Ottawa County to create a certification path for students to expand the workforce pipeline. Each organization plans to contribute matching funds for the pilot program: Benjamin’s Hope ($55,920), Harbor House ($103,294), Heritage Homes ($103,294), and MOKA Corp. ($87,492).
  • Grand Rapids Community College Michigan Reconnect expansion ($506,493): Gap funding would be provided in the form of scholarships to students who wish to use the state’s Reconnect program.
  • LAUP Business stabilization-workforce development initiative ($799,000): Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) plans to launch a workforce development initiative to increase upward mobility and economic stability for all community members who are unemployed or working in lower-wage roles. 
  • Bizstream Academy Expansion ($700,000): The coding bootcamp plans to scale up programming with ARPA funding to address the county’s need for skilled workers in computer science and technology fields.
  • West Michigan Works! Earn & Learn Manufacturing Career Fair ($101,874): The countywide event would allow local employers to share information about career opportunities, entry-level open positions, tuition reimbursement programs and apprenticeship opportunities. 
  • Youth Center youth and parent portal ($20,000): The project would build out the county circuit court’s juvenile service case management system. An online portal would help youth and their guardians look online for their court information that they otherwise would have to access in person at the court.
  • Board of commissioners electronic roll call and e-voting system ($100,000): Funds would be used for technology that allows commissioners to use electronic roll call, voting and access agendas digitally for meetings.
  • James Street DHHS building ($350,000): A recent survey found the facility’s roof needs more significant repairs than originally estimated.
  • Sheriff’s shooting range HVAC ($395,000): The shooting range lacks air conditioning, creating conditions that can be unsafe for training officers. 
  • Idema Explorer Trail ($2 million): The funds would complete the connection of the Idema Explorers Trail to the city of Grand Haven and Grand Haven Township, and other connections in the larger trail plan. 
  • Middle Macatawa trail system ($906,000): Funding would work to connect Lake Michigan to the southeastern area of the county along the Macatawa River and Lake Macatawa corridor.
  • Ottawa Sands phase I improvements ($3.4 million): The project would enhance the biodiversity of the site and provide access to Ottawa Sands for people of all abilities, as well as integrating the Ottawa Sands site into the Grand River Greenway through land and water trail connections and the Idema Explorers Camp. 
  • Crime victim’s assistance fund ($1 million): A self-sustaining crime victim assistance fund would be established to supplement and possibly replace state funding.
  • Local food rescue ($436,675): A full, county-wide food rescue infrastructure would be created. The initiative would include purchasing two new food rescue vehicles, food rescue supplies for storing and transporting food, purchasing the Food Rescue Hero app, and funding three staff positions. 
  • Medicaid cost-based reimbursements ($1.5 million): A reduction in services caused by the COVID-19 emergency response is causing lost revenue to the Ottawa County Health Department, which it is proposing to restore to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Accelerating farmland protection ($1 million): The county’s efforts of protecting farmland are done mainly through purchasing development rights, which protects food production efforts and also has positive environmental effects of protecting groundwater.
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