Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Gallatin County to receive $22M from the American Rescue Plan Act; commission will put together focus groups to decide how to spend it

by Melissa Loveridge

The Gallatin County Commission will likely put together focus groups in coming months to decide how to spend more than $22 million the county is set to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The money is part of the more than $207 million that will be doled out to Montana counties, according to a Monday release from Sen. Jon Tester. Gallatin County is receiving by far the largest amount at $22.23 million. Silver Bow County is receiving the next highest amount at $6.78 million, followed by Park County with $3.2 million and Deer Lodge County with $1.77 million.

In addition to money going to counties, close to $136 million is set to be given to cities and towns in Montana and more than $906 million to the state specifically for capital projects. Montana’s federally recognized tribes will receive an unspecified amount of ARPA funding later this month.

County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said that, originally, commissioners hoped to use the funds for court infrastructure, including expanding courtroom availability for the Gallatin County’s fourth district court judge.

But guidelines released by the Department of Treasury last week on the use of the funds make it seem unlikely that the money can be allocated to improving the county’s court spaces.

Funds must be used in relatively specific ways, said MacFarlane. That includes replacing revenue lost in the public sector, water and sewer infrastructure, broadband infrastructure, boosting pay for essential workers and supporting public health entities’ response to the pandemic.

“We’re definitely in brainstorming mode and we’re going to have to figure out a way to make those decisions in a transparent and inclusive way so the communities in the county can be a part of that discussion,” County Commissioner Zach Brown said.

There’s not yet an exact timeline for when those focus groups will meet, but MacFarlane said it will likely be in the next two months.

“We have to submit a work order about how we’re going to use (the ARPA funds), and so we’re going to need to have those meetings in order to submit that work plan,” MacFarlane said. “We’re going to have to find big projects, probably, to use it in, because we’ll have to have it spent pretty quickly.”

County Commissioner Joe Skinner was not available for comment Monday afternoon.