MADISON — Madison County, like other counties, will be getting funds from the American Rescue Plan. So will the City of Norfolk, like other municipalities across the country.
It is all part of the $1.9 trillion in federal funds that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Nebraska’s overall share is expected to be about $1 billion. Based on early figures shared with Madison County, it appears the county’s allotment will be $6,817,569. That’s a lot of funds that could help a lot of areas in the county from fixing roads and bridges to bringing up the base salaries of county workers.
“The biggest hassle is we don’t know exactly what we can spend it on,” said Troy Uhlir, chairman of the Madison County Board of Commissioners. “The last thing we want to get is where we spend it and then have to pay it back.”
Anne Pruss, Madison County clerk, said she understands some guidelines for the funds came out on Monday, but as of Tuesday’s meeting of the county commissioners, she had not seen them.
“NACO (Nebraska Association of County Officials) is looking into it and, from what I understand, even the state of Nebraska (and its member group) is looking at it to get more clarification,” Pruss said.
Officials in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration have said they’ve been waiting to learn what restrictions the federal government will put on the money so that it’s not used for expenses that aren’t allowed. Ricketts has been critical of the plan’s cost to taxpayers.
A Ricketts spokesman said the administration is reviewing the new federal guidance.
Commissioner Ron Schmidt said the county also needs to be careful not to make any commitments on what the funds will go toward.
That’s because already people are coming up to commissioners saying they “heard” the funds could be spent on this or that, which isn’t necessarily correct, Schmidt said.
Joe Smith, Madison County attorney, said it appears right now that the funds can’t be used for infrastructure and wages, which greatly reduces uses for the county. Smith said he would know more once he gets to read the actual directive.
Uhlir said he believes the county can spend a portion of the funds as hazard pay for county employees who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential workers.
Uhlir said he has been approached with ideas to use the funds, including upgrading rural broadband or transportation, which might be allowed.
“There’s lots of things being thrown out, but to me infrastructure would be ideal if it could be used for that,” he said.
Pruss said the county would need to set up its information portal to access the funds. It looks as though the county will get half the funds this year and half next year, she said.
Counties will have four years to spend the funds or they will go back to the federal government.
“It’s kind of pointless to get ahead of ourselves to say we are going with this and then it turns out we can’t,” Uhlir said. “The last thing we want to do is promise something and then we can’t have the money.”
Uhlir said another concern is if the county begins a new program, it will need to be aware of funds the county will have to levy in the future to keep the program going.
Uhlir and Schmidt said while there are no shortage of ideas for the funds, the county needs to be certain that it gets the funds and then spends them where it can benefit people without having to be paid back.
On Tuesday, commissioners said they plan to wait for more guidance from the state and NACO.
“Hopefully we can take it and do some great things for Madison County,” Schmidt said.
The Madison County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday.
Members present: Chairman Troy Uhlir, Ron Schmidt and Eric Stinson (by phone).
Others in attendance: Anne Pruss, county clerk; Dick Johnson, roads superintendent; Todd Volk, sheriff; Jeff Hackerott, county assessor; Joe Smith, county attorney; Monica Rotherham, clerk of the district court; three from the public and two reporters.
Meeting lasted: One hours, 16 minutes.
— Recited the Pledge of Allegiance and had a moment of silence. Noted the open meetings law is posted and followed.
— Postponed consideration of Humana dental and vision insurance. The county currently has Blue Cross/Blue Shield for dental and VSP for vision.
— Approved the voluntary benefit programs offered by AFLAC, Heritage Financial Services and Nationwide.
— Approved a right-of-way agreement with Ray Wilke for a permanent easement for $300 for a road project.
— Reviewed written reports and processed claims.