Kane County plans to address quality of life, economic needs with remaining COVID-19 funds
Kane County officials have now created a framework for spending the remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds the county has received.
If all of the individual pieces are approved, county residents could see better water quality, flood relief, new business growth and booming tourism. And there is a plan that will serve as at least a temporary workaround to years of unfruitful debate about the need for a countywide 708 board or new mental health tax.
The county received $103 million in federal American Rescue Plan Funds. It's spent the past year using some of the money for immediate expenses to blunt the impact of COVID-19. But most of the funds have sat untouched. Last week, the county board decided how it would slice up the remaining pie of that money.
First, $10.4 million will address both short and long-term budget holes caused or worsened by the pandemic. The board will divert another $14.6 million to government employee salaries in a move also related to projected budget shortfalls and staff retention. There's $2 million set aside for the outside firm ensuring all use of the money meets federal guidelines. And there's $11.3 million earmarked for what will likely be money the board puts directly back into the community in a second round of community grants.
But the lion's share of the remaining cash, roughly $42 million, is tagged for county projects. While each of the county projects still must get individual approvals, the pitches made by county staff center on a wish list of ideas to improve the quality of life in the county.
Among the ideas are water quality improvement projects to remove lead pipes, ensure drinking water sustainability and address areas with chronic flooding.
About 25% ($10 million) of the $42 million will go toward a behavioral health initiative that will provide county-based staffing and monetary support for local mental health services and addiction treatment. That's money long-envisioned as coming from a countywide tax administered by a countywide 708 board. Neither of those has materialized despite being debated every few years for about a decade. The federal funds may put a damper on those discussions and simultaneously establish the value of county-based funding for those needs once the American Rescue Plan money dries up.
And there are plans for a broadband internet study, new county staff to push economic development, tourism promotion and money to attract and sustain local agriculture and manufacturing businesses.
County board member Jarett Sanchez has led the county board committee debating how to use the federal dollars. He said all the money will benefit the county community, whether it goes toward county expenses or outside grants.
County Board Chair Corinne Pierog said the federal funds will allow county departments to address future needs for the first time in a long time.
"These projects are not for the next three months," she said. "Once these projects get established, they will impact Kane County positively for decades to come."