By Rob Peterson
The Schoolcraft Village Council held two special meetings in October to discuss their frustration with the county’s process for awarding grants from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The village received none of the grant money. It hasn’t stopped trying.
Kalamazoo County received $51,485,963 in federal funds through ARPA, which is intended to assist in recovery efforts from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county created subcommittees to review grant requests from local municipalities and organizations in six categories: Essential Worker Premium Pay, Negative Economic Impact, Provision for Government Services, Public Health, Services for Disproportionately Impacted Communities, and Water, Sewer, or Broadband. Of the $51 million, roughly $25 million was being granted to municipalities and organizations. The remainder was retained by the county.
Schoolcraft Village requested $14 million from the county: $10.5 million to install sewer lines and $3.5 million to replace lead-based water lines. The water-line replacement is an unfunded mandate from the State of Michigan.
The village invited Commissioner John Gisler, the county board of commissioners member representing parts of south Kalamazoo County, and the county administrator to a special meeting. Gisler attended. He indicated that the size of Schoolcraft’s request and its lack of local matching funds were the reasons that the grant request was denied.
Cheri Lutz, however, pointed out that other requests were approved without providing a local match.
“There was no indication that a match was required,” said a frustrated Lutz, “And no one called me to say that our application didn’t meet the requirements.”
When village council members questioned the process, Gisler replied “We were making it up as we went along. It was less transparent than it should have been.”
“Why didn’t the process stop when you realized that it wasn’t transparent?” asked council member Mike Rochholz. Gisler replied that there “seemed to be a sense of urgency” to the process, to which Rochholz answered, “There really wasn’t any process. It was negligent in how they allocated the funds.”
According to Gisler, the county paid $390,000 to a consultant to develop a process with a rubric for how applications would be selected.
“Do we have a report from the consultant on the process?” asked council member Kathy Mastenbrook. She said she has requested it through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“But I have yet to receive it,” answered Lutz.
“We didn’t have an administrator until May, and we were between finance directors,” explained Gisler, adding that the committees didn’t see the actual applications: A three-person administrative team reviewed the applications and put the information into a spreadsheet.
Gisler indicated that the county has $3 million left over because its consultant determined that some of the approved requests “wouldn’t pass muster with the feds.” He suggested that the village write a letter and request reconsideration.
Lutz has since attended county board Committee of the Whole meetings and expressed her dissatisfaction with the process to the board directly. She has requested reconsideration of their request, particularly the funds required to replace lead water service lines.
The county board has told her the request is under consideration.
“I’ll keep going back,” said Lutz. “I can be persistent.”