Worcester County Commissioner Josh Nordstrom cuts the ribbon at a small ceremony in June for the groundbreaking of Talkie Communications’ broadband project in Pocomoke City. With the commissioners agreeing to spend the first chunk of American Relief Protection Act (ARPA) on broadband and fire departments, a company like Talkie could receive some of that of funding.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted 6-1 on Tuesday to use about about $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds to address broadband and fire company needs.

They will decide at a later date how to divide funding between the two.

A little over $10 million was designated to Worcester County through ARPA. The county received about half of it in June and will receive the other half one year from now.

All of the money must be spent by the end of 2024.

According to a memo from incoming Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young, the county can only use the money for projects related to the covid-19 situation, such as recovering from a reduction in services because of revenue problems, as well as investments in infrastructure, including broadband.

 The county must file periodic reports and coordinate with state and federal contacts on expenditures, similar that were in place for funding provided through the 2020 CARES Act.

“We have currently fully expended all CARES funding,” Young’s memo read. “I believe it is prudent to discuss how we intend to allocate the first half of the ARPA funding.”

Project requests included deal with water and sewer, broadband, health department, fire department, county jail and an online permitting technology.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said that he spoke with the chief administrative officer in Caroline County, which went through a similar process with deciding on broadband providers.

“They took an interesting approach to it that I think we may want to use as a template, Nordstrom said. “Instead of giving a bunch of money … to specific companies to put it in the infrastructure, they’ve incentivized them per mile or per foot of broadband fiber they put in.”

Nordstrom pointed out the strategy enabled them to bring even Comcast to the table, which in Worcester County he said has felt like an impossibility.

“It means we’re paying for work that’s already been completed instead of just giving money to a company.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino said that the ARPA funding is a special opportunity that does not come along in county government often before making a motion that the commissioners use the funding to address broadband and the fire companies as well.

“As a body, we would determine how that would be allocated,” Bertino said.

Commissioner Ted Elder agreed that broadband funding would profit most people in the county.

Commissioner Jim Bunting stressed how imperative it was to get these projects funded.“We’ve been pushing this down the road for years,” Bunting said. “I think this is the most important thing we’re doing.”

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on July 9, 2021.

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