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County, city discussing Rescue Plan funding options

It’s been eight months since the American Rescue Plan was signed into law.

Local officials are now trying to figure out what to do with the money.

While the most notable element of the legislation was likely stimulus payments to most Americans, local governments — both municipal and the county — received funds too. Warren County received about $7.8 million while the City of Warren’s allocation was near $1 million.

County officials have received informal requests for funds and the county commissioners are cementing the process by which those requests will be formally considered.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said “Lisa (Hagberg, director of finance and administration) has generated an application process if you would in order to receive requests.”

However, the county has a “big hesitation,” Kafferlin said, as “(we) know we want to spend the bulk of the money on broadband deployment in the county.”

He called that the “number one infrastructure issue in the county. That is our top priority.”

But he said the county has received three requests for funds — water/sewer infrastructure projects in Youngsville and Pleasant Township as well as a proposed boat launch in the City of Warren.

Kafferlin stressed that the commissioners “want to know what the needs are” and are willing to assist in identifying other funding streams if Rescue Plan funds aren’t awarded.

“(I) don’t know what kind of timeline we are working under at the moment,” he added.

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said recent passage of infrastructure legislation is going to result in a “massive investment in broadband which may outshine the meager $7 million we would put as matching funds.”

He said no clear broadband project is in place as proposals have “kind of disappeared into the ether.”

“I really think we should have a working group or something that kind of flushes this (how to spend the funds) out in short order,” he said, raising concern about ensuring that the funding is distributed fairly.

That discussion is expected to continue at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said during a budget hearing later in the day that the city has sufficient funding in Rescue Plan dollars “to actually fund the entire match for the boat launch” but said staff would continue to recommend seeking $500,000 from the county in support of the project.

Councilman John Wortman asked Freenock if the city is in a strong enough budget position to allocate the entire Rescue Plan allocation to the launch.

She said yes but noted that she is “not sure that’s something council would want to do.”

“We have a few streets that experience flooding when it rains,” she said, outlining several other projects that could be funded with rescue plan dollars – pipe replacement along the riverfront; drainage at Mulberry Park; proposals including pickleball, softball field improvements and disc golf at Betts and a bicycle pump track along the river. None of those projects are included in the 2022 city budget.

She added that $500,000 from the county would be the “last piece of match” needed to fund the $2 million boat launch proposal.

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