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Alpena County may hire consultant to craft stimulus spending plan

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Board Administrative Assistant Kim Elkie combs through a binder of expenses from previous rounds of federal stimulus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ALPENA — Finding ways to spend $5 million shouldn’t be difficult, but that’s the case for Alpena County and other local municipalities.

On Wednesday, the Alpena County Finance Committee briefly discussed the need to hire a consultant to help determine what types of expenditures are allowable from the latest round of stimulus from the American Rescue Plan, which was approved by the federal government in March.

The full board of commissioners will continue the discussion on hiring help at its meeting Tuesday. A vote is also possible.

The county has until the end of 2024 to spend the money, but there are a limited number of things it can be used for. The commissioners would like to have a list of projects in place in September to consider.

At the meeting, county auditor Phil Straley, of Straley Lamp and Kraenzlein, explained his firm would like to be considered for the contract. He said the allowable uses of the money are not clear yet, and there is still a lot of uncertainty among local and federal governments.

“Right now the situation is fluid and constantly changing,” Straley said. “This is a great opportunity for the county, but there are also hurdles in how that money can be used. It is also important to remember this is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and the money doesn’t have to be used until the end of 2024.”

It is known the county can use the money to install fiber, improve cyber security, and make water system improvements. It can not use it to pay off debt.

According to Straley, the county may be eligible to use money from the allocation to make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic. But a formula needs to be applied to determine what revenue streams can be claimed and how much money lost because of COVID-19.

Treasurer Kim Ludlow said collecting that information and utilizing the formula are outside of her office’s capabilities and recommended an assist from a professional firm or consultant.

Chairman Bob Adrian said there were two companies who submitted proposals to do the job in addition to Straley’s interest.

The county doesn’t need to put the job out for bid because it is for professional services, but it may anyway to get the best quality and affordable company to do the work, commissioner Don Gilment said.

Gilmet added the county can use a portion to cover the cost of hiring a consultant to wade through the red tape of the spending.

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