The Henry County Commissioners and Henry County Council met Thursday morning to start talks of how to spend $9.3 million.

The county expects to receive the first half of its American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds next week.

The federal government created the American Rescue Plan to create, among other things, a Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, to help local governments fight the negative financial impacts created by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Henry County itself is receiving $9.3 million in ARP funds. Each city and town in the county is set to receive its own payout of the federal rescue dollars.

The county officials got together in the courthouse Thursday to start what Council member Kenon Gray called “strategic planning.”

“This is likely a once-in-a-lifetime windfall,” Gray said. He said the federal money is a pleasant surprise. “We want to do it strategically and wisely and get some counsel.”

He said the commissioners and council members want to involve outside consulting firms like Baker Tilly and ARA to help make sure all the funds are spent correctly and possibly used in a way that could bring even more grant money into Henry County.

“We’re seeking some hefty advise,” Gray said.

He expects that much of 2021 will be spent on planning.

“We have time,” said Commissioner Bobbi Plummer. “The money doesn’t have to be spent until December 31, 2024. This is just the very beginning stages.”

Plummer said they are waiting for more guidelines from the United States Treasury on how to use the ARP funds. She mentioned that those guidelines tend to change, and there could be things that change their plans on how to use the money.

Gray recalled that Henry County officials had to go back and make several changes last year on how they planned to spend CARES Act funds when the pandemic first started.

So far, the ARP money can be used to make up lost tax revenue, help with COVID-19 healthcare expenses, help private businesses and non-profits that were hurt by the shutdowns, and help communities build their infrastructures, specifically around water, sewer and broadband internet.

Gray said they will look at 2019 tax revenue and compare it to 2020/21 collections to find shortages. He said gas taxes may be down from decreased travel and income taxes could be down from people being out of work. The ARP funds could also act like Henry County’s Restaurant Resiliency Fund, which specifically helped local businesses get through the hardest parts of the shutdown last year.

Plummer said the money could also go to premium payments for frontline workers, such as nurses and deputies who were face-to-face with the virus, even during the shutdown.

Plummer said the Association of Indiana Counties (AIC) suggested taking roughly around 18 months to go through the process of where and how they want to spend the money. They also need to figure out what projects they will fund, as well as which projects they can fund with the money.

Plummer mentioned that they intend on getting multiple organizations involved with this.

Henry County already has several prepared plans to draw on for the ARP planning, such as the Stellar Communities plan and the Comprehensive plan that were created before COVID-19 changed the world. Gray noted that these plans were created with input from people all over the county.

“We are looking at multiple angles, trying to keep our options open,” Gray said. “We’re talking in generalities mostly until the Treasury guidance comes out.”

The county council and commissioners will have another joint work session at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 3, in the courthouse.