LARGO — Pinellas County commissioners got a look at a list of staff’s ideas for spending $189 million in funding coming from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act during a Nov. 4 work session.

Lara Wojahn, the county’s program manager for the American Rescue Plan, told commissioners that the rules for spending the funds have not yet been finalized by the Department of Treasury; however, enough guidance exists to start making plans for how to spend it.

County departments have submitted more than $500 million in ideas and projects as suggestions on what to do with the unexpected windfall. Wojahn was asking the commission for policy direction as staff continues work on the spending plan before bringing the list back for approval on Dec. 7. The money must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

She said large projects intended to be “transformative” needed to be started quickly to get done by the deadline, so the commission needs to approve them sooner than later.

Staff is considering projects that have been identified as a priority by the community, those that have been proposed by more than one department, jurisdiction or agency, as well as projects that improve the health and/or economic outcomes of an underserved community, such as Lealman or Highpoint.

Other ideas involve projects that avoid legacy costs, mitigate a county liability and projects that align with the county’s strategic plan.

The Department of Treasury set seven spending categories.

• Category 1: public health projects.

• Category 2: negative economic impacts.

• Category 3: hard hit communities.

• Category 4: premium pay for front line workers. Pinellas won’t be using that category.

• Category 5: infrastructure.

• Category 6: revenue replacement.

• Category 7: administration.

Wojahn provided several examples from each category except 4, which Pinellas doesn’t intend to use. Plans for Category 1 include spending $1 million for the sheriff’s mental health squad, $5.7 million for human services software system and $1 million for a coordinated access model.

Wojahn said in Category 2, staff proposed using 10% of the total, or $19 million, for capital improvement projects for nonprofits. Commissioner Pat Gerard said $19 million was too much while Commissioner Rene Flowers said the amount was just right, especially during this time where the cost of everything was going up.

Ideas for Category 3, hard hit communities, such as Lealman and Highpoint, included spending $3.161 million for Joe’s Creek Greenway Trail and adjacent projects, $3.8 million for Raymond Neri Park and $10 million for recreational facilities in unincorporated Seminole.

In Category 5, infrastructure, staff proposes spending $3.6 million for the Palm Harbor regional storm water system and $10 million for the county’s upcoming project to get those still using septic tanks moved to the sewer system.

Category 6, revenue replacement, spending includes $200,000 in the Ridgecrest area, specifically for Gulf Terrace and Rainbow Village infrastructure, $500,000 for electric vehicle infrastructure and an undetermined amount for a regional fire training center.

Commissioner Janet Long said more needed to be included for electric vehicle charging stations. County Administrator Barry Burton reminded commissioner that local municipalities also received a share of the federal funds and could put in their own charging stations. The county doesn’t need to supply chargers countywide, he said.

The final cost, $1.2 million, will pay for management, coordination, reporting and compliance of the program over the next five years.

Commissioners also were presented with a five-page list of ideas, totaling nearly $241 million. Of that amount, $152.6 million was the total for projects that could be done right away and $88 million was the cost of projects that would take more time and consideration.

Wojahn said she would return to the commission Dec. 7 with a more finalized list of projects. Burton said the plan was for the commission to approve a least a portion of those projects, so work could get started. He doesn’t expect all projects to be approved. He said approval would be an ongoing process over the next few years.

In other business, the commission agreed to continue meeting in Largo until February 2022. The plan is to move back to Clearwater at the time with regular meeting taking place in the assembly room and work sessions and other meetings being held in a newly renovated space designed to accommodate larger groups.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.