Pinellas County is revising its spending plan to realign $52.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from its initial payment of $94.69 million to what it feels are more suitable – and compliant – projects.
Pinellas will receive a total of $189.38 million, and the budget amendment, passed during Tuesday’s county commission meeting, was necessary to begin several Phase 1 ARPA projects. According to county data, the spending plan now totals $188.46 million, an increase of $3.62 million.
Commissioner Dave Eggers asked if the changes allow the county to use Penny for Pinellas money in other areas. Administrator Barry Burton said to some extent it would but noted the county is also expanding the scope of scheduled projects.
“We also are doing a lot more in those areas,” said Burton. “Instead of just repairing sidewalks, we’re connecting sidewalks – we’re connecting up to schools and things like that.
“So, it’s a lot more than just replacing Penny.”
Following site visits that provided more accurate cost estimates, the budgets of several sidewalk and drainage projects increased by $1.38 million. In February, commissioners unanimously approved a $19.5 million sidewalk improvement project to provide more accessibility for residents with disabilities and reduce vegetation while improving drainage.
Among the more notable revisions are changes to the much-anticipated Consolidated Computer-Aided Dispatch project. The county, Safety and Emergency Services and the Pinellas Sherriff’s Office look forward to an updated process that integrates all jurisdictions on the same system to ensure rapid and accurate communication between first-response teams.
Pinellas officials found that the previously approved measure included a contract solicited without meeting the terms and conditions required by federal statute. Commissioners approved replacing it with a new project and transferring $9.3 million to the Sheriff’s Office for operating expenses, freeing money in the general fund to pay for the two-year implementation of the new CAD system.
“We’re having to move money around because when the sheriff bid it, he didn’t bid it with the federal requirements in it because the ARPA money wasn’t available then,” said Burton. “We’re having to fund other projects to where we can free up dollars where we can do this.”
According to county documents, the new CAD system would improve data management tools and real-time traffic routing to improve response times and operational awareness. Integration between Pinellas municipalities, like St. Petersburg, would support collaborative data sharing and increase law enforcement’s and emergency services’ access to “critical spatial data.”
That shift resulted in a $4.8 million increase to the original ARPA spending plan, and Commissioner Janet Long asked if the reallocation would cover the entire project cost.
“Yes,” said Burton. “I think this is a real game-changer, and it’s probably one of the biggest public safety things that you can actually do.”
The revised spending plan replaces three utility projects with alternate external funding or non-compliant contracts with four encompassing water distribution and sewage collection. That includes $20.45 million for the South Cross Bayou dewatering improvements and denitrification filter rehabilitation, $13.9 million to replace the water distribution system for mobile home communities receiving new wastewater collection systems and $10 million for the septic to sewer program.
Those changes reduce the county’s previous allocation to utilities by $22.75 million. The total costs dropped from $67.1 to $44.35 million.
In addition, the revised spending plan provides $4.1 million for three county Fire District projects and $15.5 for five stormwater and flood mitigation endeavors. Background documents state the county will reallocate that funding for transportation infrastructure developments.
Burton told commissioners that the county administration would provide periodic updates and revisions to the board. The federal government stipulates that entities must obligate the first round of funding by Dec. 31, 2024. Burton relayed that several projects could not meet that time requirement, especially those requiring land acquisitions.
Eggers asked if the spending plan was available online, noting that residents frequently ask for updates on the county’s use of $189.38 million in federal money.
“This is a pretty detailed plan,” he added.
Chris Rose, director of the office of management and budget, agreed and said some information is available.
“We’re working on getting some better information out there,” said Rose. “Like we’ve got the Penny one-pagers – we just don’t have this done yet. We were actually going to come to you first.”