City Commissioners unanimously approved $2.88 million in community ARPA grants during their Dec. 6 meeting.
One person spoke in general opposition of the city’s use of federal COVID relief funds, but there was no other opposition to the staff recommendations and commissioners supported those recommendations as presented.
Commissioners initially reviewed the staff funding recommendations for community grants through the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation of COVID relief funds during a special Nov. 17 meeting.
During the Dec. 6 meeting, people from multiple grant awardees thanked the commission for the grants and the process.
The Great Falls Development Authority is not a recipient of the ARPA grants, but was previously awarded $1.4 million of CARES Act funds for their revolving loan fund, and they spoke in favor of the recommended ARPA grants.
Applications were due July 15 and the city received 34 applications that total $10,464,425.81.
Tom Hazen, the city’s grant administrator, began reviewing the applications for completeness and eligibility over the summer.
He told commissioners during their Sept. 6 meeting that eight applications were removed from consideration because they didn’t meet the minimum requirements under the city’s guidelines.
According to his presentation for the Nov.17 special meeting, 10 applications were deemed ineligible and were not scored.
The city received $19.47 million in ARPA funds, which are COVID relief funds. Those funds carry more detailed rules on eligible uses and deadlines for expenditure.
Hazen said that the internal staff committee began their review and evaluation of the remaining applications on Aug. 16 and is now recommending to commissioners to fund 14 projects totaling $2,884,557.
Once the committee ranked the project proposals, they started at the top and worked their way down until the $3 million cap was exhausted for their recommendation to the commission.
In May, commissioners decided to cap the ARPA funds for community grants at $3 million.
Hazen said during the Nov. 17 meeting that the staff committee went against the scores in two instances.
In one case, NeighborWorks Great Falls had another application that scored well, but had already been recommended for funding for a separate program and if the agency was awarded both requests, it would have totaled about $1 million of the $3 million cap.
Hazen said the committee felt that was too great a concentration of funds into just one priority area so they bumped the second request for down payment assistance funds down in the rankings.
The second request that scored within the top 14 initially was from Habitat for Humanity but the amount would have put the total over the $3 million cap. Hazen said that they agency didn’t break down their budget in a way that the committee could see if partial funding would mean the project couldn’t be completed.
He said that United Way submitted multiple requests with detailed budget breakdowns and the committee determined that the request for an early education program met a priority and an area that the city has limited funding toward. He said that program would also be easier to administer and track under the funding rules so that program was bumped up in the rankings.
The Tourism Business Improvement District’s request for funding for a tourism master plan was also bumped up since it was a good way of funding the tourism industry, which the city hadn’t done and would benefit the community at large, Hazen said.
The staff review committee used the scoring sheet that commissioners approved and was included in the application that was published in February.
Staff is recommending funding for the following projects, according to a Nov. 7 memo from Hazen to commissioners:
- Alliance for Youth: $287,278 for improving mental health and reducing violence by strengthening parent-child relationships, funds will be used to enact evidence-based practices at the Alliance for Youth headquarters including parent mediation, nurturing parenting, circle of parents, youth mental health first aid, and question, persuade and refer. This program is designed to directly address abuse in our community and is anticipated to benefit hundreds of residents.
- Cascade County Historical Society: $56,595 for technology upgrades to Ozark Club at The History Museum, funds will be used to install hardware increasing the remote gathering capacity of the museum. This will mitigate current and future health concerns and allow for remote participation in museum special events.
- Discovery Family Counseling Services: $49,000.00 for expansion of services, funds will be used to expand the mental health therapy services available for children as young as three years old. Specifically, Discovery will implement programs designed to treat behavioral health concerns in youth through “play therapy.” Additionally, Discovery will remodel a portion of its building to be used for this specific purpose.
- Great Falls Voyagers: $600,000 for Centene Stadium field repair, funds will be used to make repairs to the playing surface. This will ensure the ongoing viability of a facility that is used by professional, amateur, and local school teams. Also, maintains a valuable tourism draw and local business partner in the Great Falls community.
- Great Falls College Montana State University: $197,350 for job training and education for at-risk youth, funds will be used to initiate a new program that will provide job training to at-risk youth ages 16 and older and those re-entering the work force. The training framework will focus on education, construction training, work ethic/job readiness training, leadership/community service, and case management/career development.
- Great Falls Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Clinic: $70,894 for early intervention speech/language/feeding outreach support, this program will reduce barriers preventing children from accessing therapy by providing speech/language/feeding therapy on site in daycare centers, homes, or other youth focused locations. This will alleviate barriers arising from transportation limitations or work schedule conflicts.
- Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District: $215,000 for development of a tourism master plan, this plan will utilize assessments conducted by professional consultants to evaluate Great Falls’ current and potential status as a tourism destination. The plan will serve as the foundation for short and long term strategies for marketing and increasing the appeal of Great Falls to visitors. This project was not awarded full requested amount.
- Helping Hands: $49,900 for operation of a food pantry downtown, providing food, hygienic items, and clothing to individuals facing financial hardship. These funds will bolster the in-place budget.
- Ideal Option: $228,980 for increasing access to medication assisted treatment (MAT), Ideal Options offers substance use disorder treatment in Great Falls. Ideal Option is looking to increase access in the city by opening a second location. These funds will be used to offset the expenses incurred in the first six months of this new location.
- NeighborWorks Great Falls: $496,810 for increased owner-built home, or mutual self-help program, operations, this award will allow for increased and future-looking operations associated with the MSHP. These new activities will include development of a master plan, compilation/submission of required filings, and engineering documents. These funds will contribute to the eventual construction of 100 new homes. The proposed development is located at the 33rd Avenue South and 13th Street South.
- Opportunities Inc.: $97,750 for mitigation improvements to facility, social distancing considerations rendered the small Opportunities Inc. headquarters waiting room inoperable during the pandemic. Individuals seeking assistance were asked to leave and return later. Financial and transportation limitations made multiple trips to the office unfeasible for many seeking services. These funds will be used to expand the area and create a safer and healthier environment for people waiting for appointments.
- Peace Place: $375,000 for building renovation, Peace Place is looking to renovate its new location to create an ideal environment to provide childcare, caregiver support, and respite services. This award will fund the renovation of an existing (and currently empty) downtown location to include classrooms, rest rooms, offices, a kitchen, and other faculties as needed.
- United Way: $85,000 for early education assistance, funds will be used to coordinate the availability of early childhood education, bridging gaps for children through kindergarten enrollment, and increasing access for underserved populations in conjunction with Great Falls Public Schools.
- YWCA: $75,000 for rental assistance, the YWCA will use the funds to provide low to moderate income women the financial resources to place first/last month deposits when entering into a new rental agreement. This will assist women in establishing secure homes for their families and simultaneously address homelessness in the city.
Hazen said that they used the raw scores to rank the funding requests, but also considered the priorities set by the commission at the beginning of the discussion on how to use the ARPA funds.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said during the Nov. 17 meeting that he wanted to ensure the process was transparent and said staff had done that.
He said he agreed with the commission priorities and the recommendations.
Tryon asked if they were doing the funding as a package or individually since the city realized its own ARPA projects have increasing costs.
Deputy City Manager Chuck Anderson told him that it’s similar to the budget process when staff makes a recommendation but it’s up to the commission to make the decision on the funding and that it was the will of the sitting commission to set aside $3 million for the community grants.
Tryon said that the $3 million was the consensus at the time but asked how to have the discussion about adjusting that since the costs for city projects has increased.
During the Dec. 6 meeting, Tryon said that he was initially in favor of keeping all the ARPA money for city needs, but looking at the list of agencies that applied and that staff recommended for award, were “all good causes and I think they’ll all be beneficial to the community.”
Commissioner Joe McKenney asked about how the recommendation to fund the Great Falls Voyagers fit into the guidelines.
Hazen said that tourism was identified as a priority for ARPA funds by the city and the U.S. Department of Treasury, which set the rules for the funds.
He said that the stadium plays a big role in the community through the professional baseball team, as well as youth and community sports, tourism and entertainment.
According to their application, the stadium impacted about 100,000 per year, Hazen said.
He said there was some skepticism for that request by the committee initially, but that their application had demonstrated the damage COVID had done to the team and stadium and how the project would benefit the community.