Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on June 1 laid out priorities for spending $86.2 million anticipated over the next two years from the federal American Rescue Plan Act designed to help states, counties and cities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some projects to be added to the county’s proposed 2021-22 budget scheduled for hearings next week include $7 million to lease property for housing the homeless and $1.5 million to expand mental health services and patient housing.

Another $4.3 million was allocated for road maintenance, and $200,000 was dedicated for developing a recovery resource center to guide people through the many assistance programs offered by the federal government.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said there are so many various assistance programs, it’s difficult for county officials, much less the public, to navigate through them and maximize the benefits.

“We must have expertise,” Hartmann said. “It’s going to make all the difference for our county.”

Other projects will be refined and brought back to the board in October after the county receives final guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on how ARPA funds can be spent.

Those include a lighting project at Orcutt Community Park that Board Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson asked to have moved from the Tier 2 capital improvement projects list to the higher-priority Tier 1 list, bringing the total cost for those projects up to $5 million.

Of the initial six Tier 1 projects, only one was in the North County — a $400,000 replacement of three heating, ventilation and air conditioning units at the Santa Maria Juvenile Hall.

At the same time, supervisors agreed to commit unallocated cannabis tax revenue to three other projects as part of the proposed 2021-22 budget.

Hartmann also asked to have $50,000 in cannabis revenue contributed to each of two California Coastal Conservancy feasibility studies on providing trails in the Point Sal area and creating a campground in Guadalupe.

She sought board support for the contributions after 1st District Supervisor Das Williams had secured support for spending $2 million to assist the $18 million effort to purchase the West Mesa portion of the San Marcos Foothills to preserve it as open space.

“There is no way in hell, on the day that I vote for $2 million for open space for South County, that I wouldn’t vote for $100,000 for open space for North County,” Williams told Hartmann, drawing chuckles throughout the hearing room in Santa Barbara, where the meeting was held.

Supervisors also asked staff to arrange presentations that will give the board more information about three potential projects — a proposed emergency child care initiative, a partnership with the EconAlliance and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to provide broadband services to the North County and optional projects to meet the county’s most critical housing needs — before they commit ARPA funds to those.

Hartmann said the board needs a set of principles for evaluating projects to select those with the greatest benefit, suggesting criteria addressing inequities, racial justice and educational opportunities, providing match funding, improving efficiency, increasing transparency, reducing the county’s carbon footprint, providing multiple benefits and being in the works for a long time.

The staff is expected to bring a proposed evaluation system back by October as well.

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