They may be all wearing life jackets, but the rescue boat hasn’t quite arrived for local municipalities and Muscatine County concerning funding as part of the recently signed $1.9 trillion Rescue plan bill passed by the United States Senate and Congress and then signed by President Joe Biden as part of COVID-19 relief.
The county, which is anticipated to get $8.27 million, and local municipalities that are quickly adding up to more millions of dollars, are all on pins and needles as they await to hear from the federal government about how the money can be spent, when it will arrive and what hoops they might have to go through to make sure the round of relief isn’t taken away.
In a report released by the National League of Cities organization and printed in the Index on March 18, it was reported the three communities in the West Liberty School District area were getting a fair chunk of the funding, West Liberty the greatest beneficiary as the city will be collecting $522,361 while Nichols will get $50,211 and Atalissa is expected to get a check for $42,721.
Still, many city officials are not aware of the stimulus package including Muscatine County, although county Budget Administrator Sherry Seright says they’ve “heard” it’s out there, but nothing official has been provided.
“We have not received any official information,” said Seright, who has been in her position since January 1993, throwing caution to the wind that the county shouldn’t count on spending any of that money until it’s in hand. She said it’s the first time she’s ever heard of getting a stimulus fund for the county since she’s been in office.
“Once it becomes a done deal, then we can decide some things,” she said. “Let’s not plan to spend it.”
Seright says it looks like local governments will have through 2024 to decide how to spend the money, calling that “a good thing” in pointing out until the county has the money in their bank account, it’s still a dream. She said regardless, county supervisors will have to talk about it at an upcoming meeting, but only after the money shows up.
The budget administrator said there are all kinds of stories out there about what other counties are planning to do with the windfall, including providing bonuses to county staff, who worked through the pandemic. Seright wasn’t behind that particular use of the money and said it seems like the four standards where the money is required to be spent is geared more for municipalities than the county, noting the county has little to do with broadband infrastructure, one of the areas suggested.
Other areas the legislature is requiring the money be spent, according to the report, include any COVID efforts, pay for essential workers, compensation for revenue loss as well as water and sewer infrastructure. Seright said local option sales taxes have remained steady through the year despite the pandemic but said interest on investments is down, although “not necessarily related to COVID.” She said building permits in the county were down about $10,000 last year, but are expected to pick up this Spring.
The relief comes as most Iowa town councils have completed their 2021-22 budget plans, which will have to be amended as the federal money arrives. Allocations are calculated by census, and other data, including unemployment rates.
The city of Muscatine is expected to get $3,277,725 as it’s portion of the stimulus package while Wilton will get $391,701, Durant $258,545 and Walcott $226,643. Lone Tree is expected to receive $191,551 while Stockton is planning on a check for $26,493.
Both Nichols city clerk Aeneas Schmidz and Atalissa mayor Bob Schmidt didn’t know much about the funding either. There was no response from West Liberty city officials concerning the stimulus money.