A once-in-a-generation opportunity
Staff Writer | May 18, 2021 1:00 AM
COEUR d'ALENE — With the potential of $32 million in funding on the line, county officials are beginning a review of what the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 could mean for Kootenai County.
Passed by Congress on March 11, the American Rescue Plan is the latest federal action intended to provide relief from COVID-19 impacts on the economy, public health, state and local governments, businesses, and individuals.
Some of the items the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package provides funding for are:
• Health care providers in rural areas,
• State, territorial, and tribal capital projects that enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to COVID-19,
• Payments to state, local, tribal and territorial governments for economic relief,
• COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, treatment, and prevention,
• Emergency rental assistance, homeowner assistance, and other housing programs,
• Small business assistance including specific programs for restaurants and live venues, and
• Extended unemployment benefits and related services
The county would have to apply for funding, Commissioner Chris Fillios said during a meeting on Monday, but if “all goes well,” Kootenai County could receive approximately $32,184,700 million distributed in two allotments.
If a county application was submitted and approved, half the funding could come as early as this month. The remainder would be available in May of 2022.
“We do have to apply for the money. Clearly, we need to understand those conditions,” Fillios said. “One of the questions that I have, and it’s actually on the positive side, is can we use that money for the new building?”
In total, the American Rescue Plan will provide $10 billion for states, territories, and tribes to cover the cost of approved capital projects, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Conditions in the document indicate public facility improvements are accepted as capital investments, Fillios noted, if it assists pandemic operational demands.
“We had to shift jury selection, when COVID was active, to the fairgrounds,” he said. “So building a building or expanding what we have where we are set up for those operational requirements could work.”
Though the attorney building project was one option, Fillios pointed that he proposed expanding the current court facility.
County Finance Director Dena Darrow said the department had recently discussed forming a small review group to vet the potential use of American Rescue Plan dollars. Following the recommendation of external auditors, Darrow advised the county to avoid filing any rash applications for the program. Unlike previous COVID-19 packages, the plan permits spending grant funds until 2024, Darrow noted, making immediate action unnecessary.
“We don’t have to rush into this because we have several years,” Darrow said. “The other part of it is the Treasury rules are not final, so our auditors urged that we don’t rush into anything because they’re probably going to change.”
The state of Idaho is expected to receive a separate chunk of plan dollars it will dole out to smaller communities and programs, Darrow explained. Localities like the city of Coeur d’Alene are also anticipated to have a slice of the federal pie.
“There are still appropriations that haven’t been determined yet,” Darrow said. “But once that happens — in the words of our external auditors — this is a once-in-our-generation opportunity.”
Based on her initial knowledge of the bill, Darrow believes the money is geared toward improving water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. While the ins and outs of the document are still unclear, she said the funds don’t appear to be a viable means to finance a building.
Per external auditor recommendation, Darrow suggested the county get its “ducks in a row” by sitting down with other department officials and community leaders eligible for funding to coordinate efforts on how to use the money appropriately.