Kandiyohi County continues to create spending plan for American Rescue Plan funds
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners held a work session on how to spend the remaining $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the county has. Out of the original $8.3 million, the board dedicated 75 percent of it to expanding broadband access in the county.
WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County was expecting last week to receive the next half of its $8.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars from the federal government.
The coronavirus relief bill was approved in March 2021 and the funds administered to counties, cities and townships can be used for a wide variety of programs, services and uses as long as it is somehow connected to the public health or negative economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.
In June 2021, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners dedicated 70 to 75 percent of the $8.3 million total to go to broadband upgrades in the county, approximately $6 million. Another $400,000 is being used to fund additional help in Health and Human Services. That leaves around $1.6 million to be allocated.
At a work session on May 17, the board took the first steps to determine exactly what their priorities are for the remaining funds. And it has actually worked out in the county's favor to wait before designating those remaining dollars for anything in particular. The U.S. Treasury Department has given those who received $10 million or less more options on how to spend the money.
"I think we were wise, and by pure luck to be honest, that we did not have a detailed plan because we have had some flexibility," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.
All of the county's funds need to be designated for a particular purpose by Dec. 31, 2024. All the money must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026. If there is any money remaining, it goes back to the federal government.
"As elected officials, you have the responsibility to serve the citizens of Kandiyohi County," Kleindl said. "What is the best way to do that? This is the start of the road map."
During the work session, each commissioner shared his top three priority areas for spending. The areas ranged from housing and child care to additional county staff such as an assistant administrator or grant writer and addressing the ongoing illegal drug challenges in the county, that have only been made worse during the pandemic.
Ideas such as putting money toward the county parks, assisting private businesses impacted by the pandemic and increasing support to the Economic Development Commission were also presented. Kleindl would like to see some money, about $250,000, spent to upgrade the county's cyber security, and several commissioners agreed.
"We are doing so much online now, it is more important," said Commissioner Duane Anderson.
The importance of creating a backup plan for the money set aside for broadband improvements was a topic of discussion at the work session as well. While the county, along with the EDC's Broadband and Advanced Technology Committee and service providers, have been working together to plan for several projects, the largest one — serving locations in Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships — has been in a holding pattern for months.
The four-township project , estimated to cost more than $10 million, is waiting for the state to open up its Border to Border broadband grant program for applications. The county hopes to be awarded half of the project costs, with the rest being funded by the county and townships.
"We are waiting, we are kind of handcuffed," Kleindl said. There are also worries that it will be difficult to get projects constructed and completed by the December 2026 deadline due to worker and equipment shortages. The worst-case scenario is losing out on the money completely because the deadline has passed.
While the commissioners agreed a backup plan is needed, the feeling was there is still time to see how things play out.
"Let's not worry about the broadband money being used," said Commissioner Roger Imdieke. "I know we need a Plan B, but we've got at least two years before we would have to get serious."
The commissioners did not make any decisions at the work session about exactly what they want to spend the remaining American Rescue Plan Act money on. Instead they plan to hold other work sessions to iron out a plan.
They want to make sure they also get input from community partners and the public about priority areas. The goal is to use this money in a very impactful way.
"My goal for all of this was to see if there was a way to address some of these post-COVID impacts sooner rather than later and at a much more local level," said Commissioner Steve Gardner.