How Yates County and the Finger Lakes are spending COVID rescue dollars
Yates County receiving $4,839,058 out of $440 million in pandemic rescue funds allocated to Finger Lakes Region.
FINGER LAKES — Some $440 million in pandemic rescue funds is being spread across nine Finger Lakes counties and the cities of Rochester and Canandaigua.
And local governments thus far are opting to put significant dollars into overdue or long-desired public works projects, back-office needs and employee pay and bonuses.
The American Rescue Plan Act funding is intended to address the continued impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, public health, governments, individuals and businesses. Funds must be spent by the end of 2026.
Of that $440 million for the Finger Lakes region, Yates County is receiving $4,839,058. Yates County Administrator Nonie Flynn says that because the intention of the American Rescue Plan Act funding for Yates County was to address the impact of COVID-19, the county legislature saw a Public Health need which they are able to combine with two other long needed projects. That Public Health need was to provide a site for mass vaccinations and testing.
"During the last two years, we had to rent old retail space and turn it into our vaccination site," says Flynn. "This required much work from our Buildings & Grounds and Information Technology staff just to prepare the site for our Public Health staff." On top of that, Public Health staff then had to move much of their equipment and supplies to the remote location in the former Gordman's department store in the Lake Street Plaza.
"Consequently, it was an obvious decision for our legislature to use the ARPA funding to provide a site for our Public Health Department to be able to do their job to provide services for our entire county," says Flynn.
In the discussions on finding a more permanent remote site for the Public Health needs, it became obvious to the legislators that they could combine this with the county's need for a new Highway Department building in Benton Center.
"The legislature took into consideration the recommendations from the Conditions and Needs Assessment that was completed in 2019 on our over 70-year-old building and other existing buildings at the Benton site," says Flynn. "A new facility would also meet the current and future needs of our ever evolving Emergency Services operations. This would create space for emergency response operations during disasters.
Flynn adds that once built, the new facility will also serve as a central training area for the volunteer fire departments and EMS providers throughout Yates County. It will also be a secured facility for storage of resources provided by FEMA, the New York State Office of Emergency Management, Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Division of Homeland Security, and Public Health for use by the county, towns, and villages.
The current plan is to construct a new main facility at the current Highway Department grounds in Benton Center that will include administration for both Highway and Emergency Services, as well as the remote site for Public Health services. The design will allow for efficient drive-though vaccinations and testing, as well as for rabies clinics. The main Public Health Office will remain in the County Office Building on Liberty Street in Penn Yan for day-to-day operations.
"This one-time source of funding is going toward our one-time capital expenditure that will benefit all Yates County residents," adds Flynn.
The city of Rochester already has allocated (though not yet spent) $130 million of its $202 million award. Mayor Malik Evans is asking staff to review those decisions to ensure projects can "happen in a timely manner." If not, the dollars will be pulled back and appropriated to something else.
Investments thus far range from replacing lead pipes in the city's water system, on housing — including subsidizing new, for-sale houses for lower-income buyers, toward small business assistance and a guaranteed basic income trial program. The city also is talking with Monroe County and the Rochester City School District about aligning investments to maximize impact. Monroe County has yet to outline a spending plan.
Many jurisdictions remain early in their decision process, having only hired consultants and accountants thus far to oversee spending and ensure compliance with federal regulations.
Network or cyber security tops the initial expenditures in Livingston and Wayne counties, records show. Seneca County has focused on accessibility improvements to an historic county courthouse in Ovid, on sewer projects, and bridge and culvert upgrades along County Road 136, adjacent to Lodi Point State Park in an area hit hard during the 2018 flooding. Yates has put the entirety of funds received thus far toward design and construction of a satellite public health space, officials said, explaining the need was evident as officials sought to provide mass vaccinations.
Elsewhere, Ontario County's largest commitment thus far is $874,000 in incentive pay for management staffers — awarding one-time $7,000 bonus to managers who otherwise did not receive a pay raise in 2021, records show. That award exceeded combined commitments to vaccine clinics, small business grant assistance, a study of disparate fire and ambulance coverage, pubic health payroll and administrative costs.
The county still has significant funding to allocate, though, with a total award of $21.3 million.
Canandaigua earmarked the entirety of its $1 million allotment, putting the money toward water and sewer projects and the bulk of the dollars ($740,000) toward lost revenue and a capital reserve fund. Said City Manager John Goodwin: "As this is a one-time revenue, we plan to spend on one-time expenses."
Only those municipalities and counties with populations of more than 250,000, or that received more than $10 million in funding, have thus far been required to report spending to the U.S. Treasury.