Itemizer-Observer

POLK COUNTY — While Polk County knows its share of Congress’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus relief bill President Joe Biden signed March 11, many questions remain how it can be spent locally.

Polk County Administrative Officer Greg Hansen presented the County Commissioners March 30 what is known so far. Oregon counties are slated to receive direct payments totaling $65.1 billion. Based on population, Polk County’s share is $16.7 million, which will be split into two payments, with the first expected around May 1 and the second no sooner than a year after that.

Hansen said the rules involving the money have not yet been determined completely. Topmost, the money must be spent by December of 2024. He shared what little else is known at this time.

“We do know certain things — infrastructure, cybersecurity and broadband are going to be eligible. Beyond that, we know we can’t back fill taxes. That’s the only definite one I’ve seen we can’t do,” Hansen said.

“Once those rules come out, we’ll have a better understanding of what we can spend this money on. My focus on preparation has been on county-wide infrastructure, including roads, broadband, those kinds of things,” Hansen added.

County Chair Craig Pope said although Polk County doesn’t know all the rules yet, they are starting to pursue avenues, especially with infrastructure, envisioning what that would look like, asking its partners, having conversations, to help determine who would step up and be engaged in that process.

“Every place where those infrastructure elements, no matter what they are — roads, bridges, water, cybersecurity, broadband, you name it — if it touches any of us as partners, any of us as partners should be involved in that conversation in consideration of cost share,” Pope said. “We’re having those conversations, so we have an understanding of who wants to participate, and who’s willing so we don’t burn any more time than we absolutely have to getting ready to move this forward.”

Hansen explained the first payment is expected at the end of this fiscal year, when he will create a new fund.

“We’ll deposit those moneys and I doubt we’ll spend much for the remainder of this fiscal year,” Hansen said. “Basically, that will then carry over into next fiscal year’s beginning fund balance. Then we’ll receive the second payment at the end of that fiscal year, and we’ll carry most of that money forward for the next two or three years.”

Hansen will be in contact with cities and the tribe on cost share it if it involves those entities, and those kinds of big picture projects, that tend to be put off because all the money isn’t in hand yet, but are “crucial to our future and our ability to provide services to our citizens.”

Each individual city in the county will also get its share of the money. Hansen said the amounts are again based on population. For example, Dallas would receive a little over $3 million and Falls City would get the minimum allocation for Falls City. Hansen did not know the specific amounts yet.

He did know the Commissioners would be the decision makers on where Polk County’s money goes and there will be more time to deliberate.

“The good thing is you don’t have a narrow time frame to push all this money out. It will give you a pretty adequate timeline to spend this money,” he said.

Hansen said he’ll be working with Morgan Smith, county counsel, on what those rules are as they are determined by the federal government, adding hopefully they’ll not be 1,000 pages. Additionally, while he knows there will be reporting requirements, it’s remains unclear what they are or even who the county will be reporting to.

“I hope it’s directly to the federal government, be we can’t guarantee that,” he said.

Pope added one of the priorities will be to pay off Polk County’s contribution to NACO (National Association of Counties).

“Because NACO has dedicated an army of research people into this, making certain to track every possible question that any county could have with regard to how to use this money, what’s eligible, what’s not eligible,” Pope said. “NACO will be our repository for that information we can’t discern on our own. I would hope that there is not as much need for interpretation in the intent of rules as it was for the last two events. The information should, as we discovered for the last two events, truly be understandable if you go to the (U.S.) Treasury rules and read them.”

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