BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – With $3.2 million in federal American Rescue Plan stimulus funds already in the bank, Lee County officials are trying to map out how the money will be dispersed.
A committee of six people that includes Lee County Supervisors Ron Fedler and Garry Seyb, Jr., Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise, Lee County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom, Lee County Administrative Asst, Sara Helenthal and Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Mike Norris, met Monday to iron out some of the details.
The county received the first half of a $6.5 million allocation in May and will get the second allocation in 2022.
The money is currently in the county’s account with Connection Bank, but Auditor Denise Fraise said she’s spoken with officials who say the money can be put into interest-bearing accounts or even invested.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said he wouldn’t support putting the money in any vehicle where principal could be lost, because the county may end up on the hook for it.
“In an investment you could see a loss and I don’t think we should be in the business of investing with the possibility of loss. I’d rather have a sure thing on something like a short-term CD for, like, six months. Something to get a little revenue,” Fedler said.
“Anything else wouldn’t be responsible.”
Norris suggested a money market account or something with little to no risk, but a little return on money.
Fedler recommended investing $2 million of the ARPA funds into a CD or other no risk investment and keeping $1.2 million in the bank in case the county would need to have access to some of the funds.
Seyb said he was concerned about the parameters of what would qualify in the requests that are sure to come in.
He said most of the requests would probably come in through the committee members, but they should be funneled to Renstrom.
Norris said he would try to get out something in writing to the rest of the committee in the next week or so outlining parameters to consider when evaluating requests.
Fraise said the state auditor’s office has confirmed to her that non-profits are eligible for funds from the county. Norris said the county would also be able to make transfers to other local governments with the funds as well.
Seyb favored doing some kind of a matching grant program to incorporated cities in the county to help offset some of the costs associated with sewer separation projects that are being mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I do like the idea of some kind of possible grant program for these incorporated cities that have gotten monies themselves through the American Rescue program that are doing septic or sewer work for a matching grant. We couldn’t do a full match program we’d have to put a limit on it, but that would benefit all incorporated cities within Lee County,” Seyb said.
But he said, and Fedler agreed, that the $6.5 million won’t last long if the county doesn’t have a solid plan for accepting and evaluating requests for funding.
“In the grand scheme of things, if we don’t pare that down to have some select impacts, then it’s not going to last long,” he said.
The committee would serve as a recommending board to gather all the requests and pre-screen and qualify the proposals, and those would go to the full Lee County Board of Supervisors for final approval.
After lengthy conversation, Norris said he was going to put something together with seven categories including child care, housing, non-profits, sewer treatment, broadband, county projects, and tourism. Each category would have a funding cap.
The county projects would have to be submitted to the committee and be pre-screened along with all the other projects.
“I think it’s a good thing to do a some kind of a cursory pre-review. To have a some kind of a checklist to go through just to have a double check of whether the request is eligible based on what has been set out,” Norris said.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Treasury website, the treasury launched the relief to:
•Support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control
•Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs
•Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses
•Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic
The county has until the end of 2024 to allocate the full $6.5 million and currently has until the end of 2026 to spend the funds.