Kane County COVID-19 money debate comes down to population data

 
 
Updated 7/3/2020 10:10 AM

Kane County will hand out $34.7 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to local municipalities but only if the 24-member county board and the communities needing help can agree on how many people live in their cities and towns.

There is broad agreement to distribute money on a per capita basis. But as cities try to maximize their own benefit, there are competing ideas for how to count population.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Communities, such as Aurora that are within multiple counties, are difficult to pinpoint a Kane County population total. There hasn't been a complete population tally since the 2010 Census. While some people are satisfied with those numbers, others believe the Census Bureau's 2019 population estimates -- based on samples, not total counts -- will better reflect changes in the last decade.

Others suggest factoring in voter registrations, property tax records or data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Representatives from Aurora and the Metro West Council of Government have already rejected the county's data. That's a problem because county board members have, so far, said everyone must approve of the population numbers before distributing the relief money.

"Whatever we establish, we have to stick with it and have people sign off on it," said county board member Matt Hanson. "We don't want people saying, 'Other people got our money.'"

A consensus on population is also vital for pending legal agreements.

In case of an audit, those agreements would let the county withhold property taxes from any city the federal government deems as having misspent the funds. The county would use the tax dollars to repay the federal government. Otherwise, the county would be responsible for repaying the funds -- likely millions more than it has in reserves.

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"That indemnity needs to be made bulletproof," county board Chairman Chris Lauzen said.

The population issue is the latest hurdle in two months of growing pressure to get relief funds to local governments, businesses and nonprofit groups.

The county received $93 million in federal relief funds April 23. After weeks of slogging through the federal rules about how to use the money, a task force appointed by Lauzen recommended the county keep 55% of the money, control another 8% for unincorporated areas and give the remaining 37% to local municipalities. The recommendation came this week as the county board prepared to mutiny against the slow progress of the task force and form its own group.

That happened Thursday with formation of a seven-member panel of county board members that will craft a plan for the full board in less than two weeks. The panel will use the task force's recommendation as a starting point for discussions. The panel has three board members from the northern end of the county, two from the central/west region and two from the southern end.

It will meet Monday for the first of several discussions in a tight time frame. A plan must be drafted for the county board's executive committee to review by July 8. Failure to reach that deadline could delay relief funds getting to those who need it by another month.

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