EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Board during its meeting Tuesday approved a resolution designating $2.8 million toward broadband development.
The money, which the county received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, will be used as matching funds to support broadband expansion projects in Eau Claire County towns. The $2.8 million figure is the total ARPA funding given to towns in the county.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of service through Eau Claire County and the need for broadband service in underserved areas has become more apparent as many people in those areas were not able to connect to work, school or healthcare services through the internet,” the resolution states.
The county Broadband Committee will administer the $2.8 million based on its evaluation of broadband project applications from towns. The Broadband Committee will also submit quarterly reports updating the County Board on how the $2.8 million is being used.
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the county was allocated $20.3 million in COVID-19 relief. The County Board on Tuesday approved a budget amendment adding the $10.16 million in ARPA funds it received this year to the county’s 2021 budget. The county will receive the remaining $10.13 million next year.
That allocation of $2.8 million is the first county ARPA spending action approved by the County Board.
“Broadband” is a general term for any project that brings internet service to residents. Broadband infrastructure is one area on which ARPA money can be spent. Other potential areas include investing in water and sewer projects and assisting small businesses and nonprofits.
ARPA Committee created
The County Board approved a resolution creating the 14-member American Rescue Plan Act Committee to manage the county’s ARPA funds, which stand at about $17.5 million after the approval for broadband spending. The ARPA money must be allocated by the end of 2024.
The ARPA Committee will make recommendations on how to spend the rest of the federal aid, and those recommendations will go on to the Administration Committee and ultimately the County Board.
The ARPA Committee will also hire a third-party administrator “to distribute funds identified for the purpose of assistance to small businesses or nonprofit organizations,” according to the resolution.
The ARPA Committee was originally going to have 11 members, but the County Board approved three additional members via amendment during Tuesday’s meeting. Those three members are Jeneise Briggs, Eau Claire City-County equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator; one member from a county school board or school administration; and one member from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department or Eau Claire County Board of Health.
The other 11 members are County Administrator Kathryn Schauf, County Finance Director Norb Kirk; County Corporation Counsel Tim Sullivan; three County Board supervisors; one member from the business community; one member from town government; one member from city or village government; one member from a nonprofit organization; and one member from “organizations engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion.”
With four ARPA Committee slots filled, County Board Chairman Nick Smiar will appoint the 10 remaining members.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the County Board also denied by vote of 14-12 a motion to postpone the resolution to create the ARPA Committee.
The next County Board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 17.