County could get $6.5M in new stimulus funds

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – Lee County to get a kick in the budget from the latest round of stimulus funding.

At Monday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, board member Garry Seyb Jr., said his reading of the American Rescue Funds, said the county could get a direct infusion of about $6.5 million in the near future.

Seyb asked that the board consider appointing a committee to review ideas for handling the money. He said his interpretation of the law indicates the money can’t be used for debt relief or property tax relief.

“I just want to make sure we are very thoughtful on what we do with that money,” Seyb said. “I think we should create some kind of committee so we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction on how to spend it.”

Ron Fedler said all that information is pretty new and their are some restrictions that aren’t clear yet.

“We have to make sure you follow all the rules.” Fedler said.

Seyb said he’s sure there will be lots of requests and ideas on how to spend it, but it was his understanding you cannot use it to reduce the tax levy.

Seyb said the Iowa State Association of Counties board discussed that topic at a recent meeting and identified areas where the money can be spent: COVID responses, premium pay for essential workers, water and sewer, broadband investment and county revenue loss.

“I struggle with the essential workers premium, but we need to be cautious to have some kind of committee to really look that over.”

Seyb said the board should consider putting a couple supervisors, County Auditor Denise Fraise, Budget Director Cindy Renstrom and possibly the county’s bond counselor, to make sure all the regulations are followed in appropriating the funds.

Supervisor Ron Fedler said secondary roads has been hit hard by the pandemic with road use tax. County Engineer Ben Hull said the county will be receiving a federal subsidy of about $293,000 and would make that fund’s revenues very close to previous years.

Fort Madison City Manager David Varley also told that city council recently that the fund is doing relatively well considering the dire projections that were anticipated. Varley told the council during his last update that the city would be getting close to $100,000 which could make the city’s Road Use Tax fund close to whole.

Seyb said he could see the county possibly using the funds, in part, as matching funding for broadband grants since the state has made broadband expansion a priority in rural Iowa. He said he also like to make sure the Lee County Health Department has been made whole. Pflug said that department received funding directly in the last stimulus package.

Renstrom said Monday she envisions creating a separate fund aside from the general fund where the allocation would land and the county could track expenditures more clearly than just rolling it into the general fund.

Seyb also said having a grant writer on staff might be a way to use some of the money to create additional revenue for the county.

“I think that’s something that could pay for itself,” he said.

No action was taken with the update because it was only listed on the agenda for discussion.

In other action, the board:
• discussed setting up a redistricting commission per statute to look at county supervisor districts with new census data. Fraise said she didn’t foresee any significant changes.
• approved a drug and alcohol testing services agreement for the Secondary Roads and Lee County EMS with CJ Coooper & Associates.
• approved the usage of the Lee County Parking lot for monthly car shows beginning April 3 sponsored by Pen City Cruisers.

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