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American Rescue Plan Act funding debate intensifies for Barnstable County

John Phelan

The Barnstable County Commissioners are trying to end a disagreement with the legislative branch of the county government by deciding unilaterally how to distribute $41 million in federal stimulus money.

The Commissioners and the County Assembly of Delegates have been debating where the American Rescue Plan Act funds should go.

County Commissioners want funding to go to region-wide issues like wastewater and broadband infrastructure, while the Assembly thinks funding should go directly to towns.

At a meeting Wednesday, Commissioner Ron Bergstrom said that the Assembly of Delegates has only delayed the distribution of funding since Commissioners invited them into the process last year.

"I used the word chaos three months ago, and that's exactly what's happened," Bergstrom said. "We need to proceed based on the advice of the County counsel, because the back and forth has not gotten us anywhere."

Bergstrom referred to the board's legal counsel, who told the Commissioners that they have the legal authority to spend grant funding where they see fit.

The Assembly of Delegates legal representative, meanwhile, says that the executive branch of the county government needs to spend the stimulus funding — which is roughly double the county's entire budget — through the county's ordinance process.

Commission chair Sheila Lyons said at Wednesday's meeting that Commissioners tried to collaborate with the Assembly, but it hasn’t worked.

“I agree that we have in good faith tried to work with the Assembly and include them as a collaborative partner, and it definitely has not been that,” Lyons said.

Commissioners have sent different ordinances to the Assembly for their approval on how to spend the $41 million dollars. In the most recent, Commissioners agreed to pass $10 million dollars directly to the 15 Cape towns, based on the population of each town.

Last week, the assembly amended the ordinance and sent it back to the Commission asking that $20 million be distributed to individual towns, rather than just $10 million.

On Wednesday, commissioners unanimously voted to reject the amendment. Commissioner Mark Forest abstained from the hearing.