By Richard Sullins |

The Lee County Board of Commissioners will consider a proposal Monday to re-allocate $500,000 in federal funding that once had been reserved for Life Springs Church’s Dream Center project almost a year ago.

The plan, developed by county staff, would split the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act into two separate pots of money. The first $250,000 would be made available for nonprofit reimbursable services through the Lee County Community Social Worker Program, and the remaining $250,000 for the Lee County Health and Well-Being Initiative.

In both cases, the funding is provided only through reimbursements that meet a set of criteria established by the county for the program. No money is advanced to a nonprofit group. Instead, they will be required to pay for whatever services are required for a particular individual and submit an invoice to the county, where each line item will be reviewed against a checklist of costs for which reimbursement is allowed. The nonprofits will then receive reimbursements based on those allowable costs that have proper documentation provided.

The funds reserved last November for the Dream Center have been sitting unused in the county’s bank account for almost a year now. Recently, the federal government recognized its deadline for obligating all federal COVID-era relief dollars was unrealistic and established new guidelines that allow most of those funds, including the Dream Center dollars, to instead be spent over time until the funds are depleted.

With the pressure to come up with something quickly now off, county staff, led by County Manager Lisa Minter, have been working for several months to create the details of this program, one that will be unlike anything the county has done before.

“It’s new. It’s different. It’s innovative, just a whole new approach, really,” she told The Rant on Thursday.

The program will go by the acronym RENEW (Resources for Eliminating barriers, creating New beginnings, and providing Education for an enhanced Well-being).

Under the guidelines that will be proposed Monday night, examples of allowable expenses could include the actual costs paid to a psychologist or psychiatrist; a licensed mental health counselor, licensed clinical addiction specialist, or a licensed marriage and family therapist; actual costs paid to Central Carolina Community College for job training classes for individuals; actual costs paid to a licensed residential treatment facility; or actual amounts paid for job necessities like steel-toed boots, uniforms, or suits.

Organizations wishing to apply will be required to certify that they are currently providing the services that they would be asking the county to reimburse them for, that they have been in operation for at least a year and have provided proof of their IRS tax-exempt status, provide a copy of its governance and board members, and detail how they plan to continue these services once county funding runs out.

Under the details of the two initiatives, the Life Springs Dream Center would be eligible to apply for funding on a reimbursement basis, as would any other nonprofit organization that already provides those same services within the county. The ability to compete for funding on an equal basis was a point of contention among some in the nonprofit community last fall after Life Springs was initially awarded funding for its Dream Center plan.

Minter on Monday will be asking the commissioners to authorize the use of the $500,000 in funding in order to proceed with posting the application so that nonprofit organizations may apply for funding on a case-by-case basis. The staff will also seek approval of a contract drafted by its legal staff that outlines the requirements for providers to apply and receive those funds.

Once commissioners approve those two requests, the staff will seek applications from nonprofit organizations and bring a listing of all those who are eligible to use the funds to the November 20 meeting for final approval.

The commissioners will also consider a request to upgrade security cameras in the county’s jail and hear a proposal on sponsorships and naming rights for county parks and buildings. The meeting will take place on October 2 at 6 p.m. at the McSwain Center, 2420 Tramway Road in Sanford.