TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s allocations of American Rescue Plan dollars began with potholes and is winding down with pickleball.
On Thursday, county commissioners authorized spending $34 million of the overall $285.9 million it received from the federal government via the relief effort signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021.
In a series of three unanimous votes, commissioners agreed to spend $24 million on affordable housing, nearly $7 million at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and $3 million for 36 new outdoor pickleball courts at six county parks.
The allocations leave about $10 million uncommitted for specific Hillsborough projects, but the county said previously it planned to keep the dollars in a contingency fund. The commission kicked off the spending last fall when it budgeted $35 million and then bumped it to $40 million to repave and repair 285 miles of roads. Some of the other spending includes connecting properties with septic tanks to central sewers, drainage work, food programs, fire safety and local hospital expansions.
The federal rules allow the money to replace revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those spending categories include infrastructure, cybersecurity, health and education services, environmental remediation and public safety.
Commission chairperson Kimberly Overman has been pushing to spend more relief dollars on affordable housing. Twice over the past month, she attempted unsuccessfully to persuade commissioners to steer more American Rescue Plan dollars toward housing efforts instead of spending $20 million on sidewalk construction or saving $10 million for contingencies.
The money approved Thursday is intended to acquire and renovate one or more existing properties rather than to finance new construction.
“That provides for getting the funds out on the street quicker,” said Assistant County Administrator Tom Fessler.
The commission said in November it planned to expand pickleball offerings. The federal money will be used to build courts at Northlakes Sports Complex, Westwood Lake Park, Higginbotham Park, Springhead Park, Progress Village Park and Balm Park. The 36 pickleball courts, which include two financed by impact fees, will bring the county’s total to 52.
“It sounds like we have the Manhattan Project for pickleball here in Hillsborough County,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp.
Much of the money for the Sheriff’s Office is earmarked for a mental health pod in the detention center. Other spending includes renovations to multiple offices and buildings, personal protection equipment and $561,000 for a touchless car wash system.