BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The panel reviewing applications for funding from the county’s remain $4.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds has received just five applications to-date.
The deadline for what could be a first round of application and grant allocations is November 1st.
The county is set to receive $6.5 million in federal funds to help with projects in the county that are geared toward sustainability, as well as COVID-centric projects.
The county already deposited half of the $6.5 million from the U.S Treasury in May of this year. Supervisors are expecting the second half in May of 2022. $1.9 million of that money has already been allocated to the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic and Port Authority to serve as matching funds for a county broadband expansion project with Danville Telecom.
Currently P.A.W. Animal Shelter in Fort Madison, Elliott Test Kitchen, Lee County Recorders and Auditors offices, The Fort Madison Area Arts Association, Community Action of Southeast Iowa, and SIREPA have all applied for funds.
The county has created five categories for funding including county projects, tourism, housing, child care, and broadband. County projects, which is loosely geared toward projects within the administration of county offices, is tentatively allocated 42% of the funds, or $2.73 million.
Broadband was allocated 30%. Funding requests to help with child care and housing projects have been earmarked $650,000 each, tourism has been allocated $325,000 and the remaining $195,000 is being used to help pay half of a five-year commitment for a county ARPA administrator/grant writer position.
The county received three applications for that position in October and will be meeting to review applications later this month.
Supervisor Garry Seyb said he’s hoping to get more applications for funding in before the Nov. 1 deadline. He said he’s really hoping to see some good projects from the housing and child care categories.
“I think we short fused (the first application process). We gave them only two weeks from the first meeting. There are still a lot of questions around what people can put in for,” Seyb said.
Seyb said he sat in on a steering committee meeting last week with stakeholders in the fight against child neglect and abuse in Lee County. The county currently has the worst ranking in the state by county for child neglect at 99th out of 99 counties.
Lee County Supervisor Chair Matt Pflug said it’s been that way for some time. But Seyb said that meeting really opened his eyes to the status of children’s health in the county.
“When it comes to housing and child care, we’re pretty much open there. The same rules may not apply and people think ‘how’s this COVID-related directly’. Housing is a systemic problem in Lee County. And it’s also identified in the interim rules that housing is something we can spend money on regardless of COVID status,” Seyb said.
He said housing and child care shortages are recognized county and nationwide problems.
“My eyes were very much opened by the strategic planning group that met last Wednesday and I really feel we have an opportunity here with one-time money to make an impact on us being 99th out of 99 counties when it comes to the child issues we’ve got here,” Seyb said.
“I’d like to see us impacting housing and our child’s needs assessment in a dramatic way. I believe that our poverty, child’s needs, and housing are all interlinked and seem to be one thing in my mind. If we could do something for child care in this county, that would be dynamic. It’s become a new focus for me in my first four years on the board.”
He said one of his focuses was to get the grant writer on board and impact broadband, which are happening. Now it’s time to turn the county’s focus to its children and housing problems, and Seyb said these one-time ARPA funds can help do that.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise asked the committee to consider her office’s request and the Recorder’s office’s request. Those departments want to digitize their books so people can access critical information from home or outside offices via the Internet
“The reason being every county in this darn state is going to want to do this digitizing and we need to get in line with this person that we want to go with,” Fraise said.
The combined project would be about $300,000 and would digitize the Auditor’s transfer books and the Recorder’s office would digitize information needed for abstracts and real estate research.
“This is so the public can access these records from their homes or offices. It’s different than what I already have digitized,” Booten said.
Fraise said during the last shutdown the real estate people were not able to get abstracts done.
Seyb pushed back and said he would like to wait until the deadline so they can weigh all the projects together. He said the project certainly is worthy of merit.
“If we give to November 1st for everyone to come in, but we move ahead with this, I don’t know who else is going to have something as equally important along those same lines,” Seyb said.
Fraise said the request is a small portion of the county project allocation.
Booten said the Recorder, Auditor, and Treasurer are the departments that keep real estate moving.