County Council weighing how to allot remaining pandemic aid

Three-person work group will come up with proposals


Photo by Erin Achenbach

Seventh District Councilman Mark Harder and 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch at a May 2019 meeting.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The St. Louis County Council Committee of the Whole met via videoconference Saturday to discuss how to best spend the millions of dollars the county received in federal pandemic aid money. 

The Committee of the Whole met during a special weekend meeting July 9 to see what options the county had in spending its remaining $74.4 million in pandemic aid. In all, the county received about $193 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds. 

Council Chairwoman Rita Heard Days, D-Bel-Nor, has not moved on any decisions on how to spend the remaining money since April until the state budget was adopted, which Gov. Mike Parson signed June 30. The budget includes $74.2 million in matching grants for county projects, including $6 million for the demolition of Jamestown Mall, which the council approved in April, and $23 million for a new law enforcement center. 

At the committee meeting Saturday, Budget Policy Coordinator Chris Grahn-Howard said there were impending budget deficits, close to $72 million over the next two years, that the county could address with the remaining federal aid. 

There are other funding sources the council could tap into for that, including the $45 million from a state settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as the county’s share of the legal settlement with the NFL and Rams, although it is unknown how much or when that money would be available. 

It is also unknown if the county will have to go 50-50 in matching the grants from the state. David Winton, a lobbyist for the county, told the council to plan on matching the grants 50-50. The county could decide to partially pay for each project with ARPA money, and use different funding sources in addition to the matching state grants to cover the rest. 

There is time for the council to make its decisions; it has until 2024 to appropriate federal funds. 

Days directed 4th District Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, D-Florissant, to lead a three-member working group to come up with recommendations for the full council. The working group would include at least one of the three Republicans on the seven-member council. 

Fifth District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, questioned if the meetings would be open to the public. Days said that would be at the discretion of Webb. Sixth District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, suggested that the meetings be closed to the public for the sake of saving time, with final recommendations brought before the both the council and the public at regular County Council meetings. 

“We got plenty of data already on what the citizens of St. Louis County have identified as … important. This work group will take that data, other information we have and report back to the council as a whole with recommendations,” Trakas said. 

The council was scheduled to meet for a regular meeting Tuesday, July 12 — after The Call went to press.