BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The procurement process for consulting and software for a web portal that will allow Los Alamos County to begin processing applications for some $2 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds has finally been completed, County Manager Steven Lynne told County Councilors at their July 26 meeting. The contract, with CliftonLarsonAllen for which was signed July 21, a year and a day after the County received the funds, may be viewed at the following (link).
“We had some issues during that procurement process but that has been completed so we executed the contract. Our goal is, I’ve asked staff to set a goal for the end of August to be able to start accepting applications. They’ve indicated that they’ll work with the business community to actually do some preregistration prior to that so when the portal is configured and up and running, they won’t have to just start at that point with registration – they’ll do some of that in advance,” Lynne said.
He confirmed that the money for the consulting and software is not coming out of the ARPA funds but from general County funds.
“We’re not spending the ARPA money on that overhead cost. We want to maximize those funds for eligible applicants,” Lynne said.
Council Chair Randall Ryti noted that before the ARPA funds there was the CARES Act funds and asked if the process had been different for the CARES Act. He asked Lynn to explain the rationale of why the County needed a portal to distribute the ARPA fund.
“There are two very different sets of circumstances here. The CARES Act had a very brief window for implementation. We barely had time to put together a program and get the dollars out the door before the deadline. It was very manual – quite a bit of time was spent just evaluating each application and the number of factors on each application and a completely new program with not very clear guidelines given from the granting agencies,” Lynne said. “Fast forward a year to ARPA. From the time we received the money – the first half of the money – the Treasury Department spent a very long time developing a very extensive list of regulations. That was at lease a six-month process . It’s over 400 pages of regulations. The window of time fortunately and the flexibility of these funds is much greater so our ability to be a little more thoughtful about program development as well as the process itself, I think will enable a better program and process in the long run.”
He said it is taking “a little more time to set up and that part of it is unfortunate”.
“But for the sake of internal controls, grant compliance, effective use of the funds – having online availability and having some experts involved who are seeing these programs across the country – all of these factors we feel will be beneficial and worthwhile. That’s kind of the difference. Probably the biggest factor is just the time window. We didn’t have the luxury at all under CARES to do anything like this,” Lynne said.
Chair Ryti asked if Lynne knew if the timeline has been much different with other cities and counties in the state and whether those entities will distribute their money sooner than Los Alamos County. Lynne said he didn’t know.
“I think it might be something to check on. Obviously sooner is better. I think it’s good that you’re going to be having business owners contacted. At least they know something is imminent and I hope that there are no delays beyond the end of August at this point,” Ryti said.
The Reporter asked in an email Friday when a request for proposals for the web portal contract was issued. County Economic Development Director Dan Ungerleiter responded that an RFP process “was not required given that the web portal was given a brand name only determination for proprietary software to be used in conjunction with consulting services that the County previously procured to assist with the administration of ARPA funding”.
Asked if outreach to local businesses has already begun, Ungerleiter responded that outreach has been continuous since the program’s inception.
“With that said, we are preparing a press release for release this week providing an update on the program and the County’s ARPA grant application web portal. Once the web portal is ready, the County will again reach out to the business community with detailed information about the program and how to successfully apply for ARPA funding,” he said.
Several local businesses had complained to the Reporter last month that the funding had been received by the County in July 2021 but that they were still waiting to avail of it. https://losalamosreporter.com/2022/07/14/no-date-set-yet-for-county-distribution-of-2-million-in-american-rescue-plan-act-funds-destined-for-local-small-businesses/