Some Vermont counties are set to get more money from the federal government in one year than they have gotten from Vermont taxpayers in the 21st century. Part of the Covid stimulus package involves the federal government allocating billions in ARPA stimulus funding to counties across the US, according to each county’s share of the U.S. population. Vermont’s counties are set to get $121 million directly funded to them. For reference, Vermont’s Legislature recently allocated $80 million of ARPA funding, despite some vocal disagreement from Governor Scott.
Addison County is set to get $7.1 million with a F2022 budget of $269,000. Chittenden County, meanwhile, will be gifted $31.8 million compared to a $1.24 million budget. In essence, Addison and Chittenden are each set up get over 25 times in federal funds in one year than what they usually spend on their annual budgets. Franklin, Rutland and Windsor counties are expected to receive about $10 million in ARPA funding, making their ARPA funds 20 times as large as their budgets. Bennington, Windham, Orleans, Lamoille, Orange and Essex counties have ARPA funding exceeding between 5-12 times their budgets. Data regarding the size of Caledonia, Grand Isle and Washington counties did not have budgets available, likely because they weren’t significant.
This model of federal grants makes more sense in other states because those counties have larger budgets, with greater responsibilities. Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office summarizes “in most but not all states (ie Vermont), counties have wide-ranging responsibilities such as registering voters, supervising elections, keeping records, providing police protection, and administering health and welfare services. In some parts of the country, the county government also has responsibility for schools and roads.”
In other words, the responsibilities of most US county workers extend far beyond what is expected of Vermont county workers. We can infer that on the whole, counties outside Vermont employ greater numbers of county government workers relative to their populations with greater knowledge about the places where increased funding would help.
Vermont relies on town government workers to get those jobs done. “Almost all Vermont counties conduct business limited to County Court and the Sheriff’s Department, and their employees serve limited roles. Yet the ARPA funds going to counties must be spent in specific areas far outside the areas of expertise of county employees in Vermont” (JFO).
Only time will tell if Vermont will be able to overcome this spending expertise disadvantage.
David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.