GREENFIELD — The process of distributing American Rescue Plan funds for Hancock County could include several different roles for the Hancock County Community Foundation, county officials heard at a recent joint meeting.

Commissioner Marc Huber said he thinks the foundation is best situated to oversee the process because of its previous experience.

“There’s no sense in us trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

The county is set to receive about $15 million from the ARP Act. The county plans to dedicate 40% of the money to infrastructure improvements; 25% to organizations focused on mental health; and 25% for other nonprofits. The remaining 10% would be reserved for other expenses, like administration costs.

County officials are in agreement about the priorities. However, officials haven’t yet made a decision about how they’d like nonprofits organizations to apply for funding.

At the meeting, foundation president Mary Gibble presented four different options for how the foundation could be involved in the administration of ARP funds, ranging from merely communicating the opportunity to nonprofits it works with to handling the majority of the process.

In most options, the foundation would charge a percentage fee for its work on the project.

Gibble said the foundation would be happy to play a large role in the grant administration process and is qualified to do so thanks to its extensive experience in philanthropic grantmaking.

“I heard you earlier say your time is limited, your capacity is limited, you’re going a lot of really important work with a lot of really important decisions to make,” Gibble told the officials. “We’re specialists in the grantmaking arena.”

In the first option, the foundation would merely communicate about the grant opportunity with its partner organizations through its monthly newsletter and its website. There would be no fee charged to the county in this scenario.

Other options see the foundation playing a significantly larger role. In the second scenario Gibble outlined, the foundation would provide a secure online portal where applications and other documentation could be submitted. Foundation employees would verify the charitable status of applicants before submitting their applications to the county. They would also use the portal to gather information about how the organizations chosen for funding are spending the money and provide a quarterly report to the county government. Gibble said over 150 organizations have already used this online portal.

In this scenario, the county would still make all decisions about how to award the grants and would distribute the funds. The foundation would charge a fee of 2% of the granted amount with a minimum of $10,000.

A third option would involve the foundation also giving a selection committee online access to the applications. If desired, foundation staff and volunteers trained in grant selection could participate in the selection process and convene meetings. For this option, the fee would be 2% of the granted amount with a minimum of $20,000.

In the final scenario, the foundation would control most of the selection and award process. The county would transfer ARP funds to the foundation, which would handle disbursement to selected organizations and publicize the awards via photo opportunities and press releases. For that, it would charge a 2% fee with a minimum of $30,000.

Gibble also noted that grants could be awarded on either a rolling basis or through a deadline-driven cycle.

For larger-scale programs seeking awards of $100,000 or more, Gibble suggested a different and more extensive application process. She said the county could identify organizations they would like to work with and invite them to apply for an exclusive process, also with the foundation’s involvement. This process would include community input and the creation of an action plan and sustainability plan for how the project could continue funding itself after using the ARP money.

County officials have so far made no final decisions on how to approach the grant process, but many indicated that they were leaning toward a greater involvement from the foundation.

“I thought the idea of letting the community foundation administer that makes sense, because they have the resources to do it,” county council president Bill Bolander said, though he noted the final decision is up to the county commissioners.

Huber said his preference would be for the community foundation to handle grants under $25,000, while the county would handle larger requests.

County council members had compiled a questionnaire seeking to survey organizations about their interest in ARP funds, which was briefly posted online before the commissioners asked for it to be taken down. Huber said he believed the questionnaire was an unnecessary extra step.
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