The American Recovery Plan could add around $43 million to local coffers, but some local leaders are concerned that their small towns could be left out almost completely.
Laurens and Clinton are slated to receive around a combined $8.3 million, and Gray Court is in line for another $408,729, but smaller incorporated towns like Cross Hill and Gray Court could be left out due to their lack of infrastructure.
Caveats on the ARP as written require the money be spent on infrastructure projects such as water, sewer or high-speed internet.
“If we can get (the ARP funds), it would mean a lot, but according to what it’s earmarked for, Cross Hill doesn’t have what we need to get it,” said Cross Hill Mayor Randy Bishop.
Cross Hill is due $251,411 in ARP funds, while Waterloo is due $74,676.
The rural towns of Cross Hill and Waterloo, who have combined populations of around 550 residents, do not have water or sewer systems or broadband internet services of their own to improve.
Bishop said he met with a representative from the Municipal Association of South Carolina who gave Bishop little hope of receiving the federal dollars aimed at helping towns, cities and counties recover from the adverse economic effects of COVID-19.
Laurens County has already received $13.1 million directly from the U.S. Treasury.
“The representative from the municipal association pretty much told us not to expect anything,” Bishop said. “Smaller communities like ours aren’t going to benefit from this, but there are a lot of things we can do to improve the community, no doubt, if we could get the money.”
Gray Court has no such worries, and Town Manager Garry Smith said town officials expect to receive the money promised to them by the ARP. Gray Court has its own water system, which is run in partnership with the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission, but sewer in the Gray Court downtown area has long been a need and point of discussion among town council members.
“We have been talking for quite some time about a whole host of issues – many of them related to sewer,” said Smith of the ARP funds. “Sewer is an issue we could use the money for, and there are other issues.”
Small towns, including Laurens and Clinton, are awaiting South Carolina officials to request and receive the money and then dole it out as the law requires. Cities with populations over 50,000, counties and states have already received ARP funds from the federal government.
The state’s delay in getting the funds and the involvement of a third-party private firm in approving the funds for dispersal has become a point of contention among small-town mayors such as Laurens’ Nathan Senn.
Senn and others have questioned the legality of involving the private enterprise, Guidehouse Consulting, as an arbitrator of the ARP funds.
Senn said the state’s small-town mayors are still considering where to go from here – a move that could include a lawsuit against the state to release the funds as they say is required by law.
While the ARP funds are meant primarily for infrastructure projects, there could be a way for small towns like Cross Hill and Waterloo to receive the funds, Senn said.
According to the law’s fineprint, there could be some leeway for smaller towns. Municipalities can donate to nonprofit organizations – such as their volunteer fire departments – or perhaps partner with a cooperative as Palmetto Rural Telephone (PRTC) to create the infrastructure they need.
In addition to the funds to be doled out in Laurens County, other nearby municipalities are also slated to receive federal dollars: Ware Shoals, $1.077 million; Greenwood $11.6 million; Honea Path, $1.9 million; Fountain Inn, $5.2 million; and Simpsonville $12 million.