Stimulus package full of cash — and many unknowns

Weston Mayor Jeremy Schroeder stands near the railroad tracks that run through the village.

Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will be coming to Wood County governments soon and the effects could be profound, but leaders are unsure exactly how.

“We don’t even know for sure how we can use it. They have not received the guidelines yet. There’s a chance we will receive (the money) before that’s even done,” Wood County Auditor Matt Oestreich said. “Once it is receipted we will know how much money will be coming in total. It’s not certain yet. Regardless of your headline, it’s still a huge sum of money.”

The bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, includes $65.1 billion in aid to local communities. The money will come in two disbursements that will be coming directly from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The first half of the funds is to be in the hands of governments within 60 days of the bill’s signing. The second round would be released no sooner than a year later.

That’s different from the aid packages released last year called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was disbursed in three rounds of funding from the state to the counties.

Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said that Wood County should be receiving $25.4 million.

“As of right now they have released the amounts, but we have not received any written guidelines or interpretation of what that money is allowed to be used for,” Herringshaw said.

Bowling Green Mayor Mike Aspacher said that the city could be getting around $7 million and he is also looking at infrastructure.

“We do not have any official notification of that funding yet, but that is consistent with what I have heard through various sources,” Aspacher said.

He’s also not sure how the money will be spent.

“It’s very soon in the process, as far as making those sorts of decisions. Frankly, there are more unknowns than there are knowns, in terms of what are going to be considered allowable expenditures. We are still waiting for specific guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury, as to what those allowable expenditures may be. Until we have that guidance, we’re really unable to make a whole lot of concrete decisions,” Aspacher said.

“What I can say, is that we will utilize the funds in a way that will have the most broad impact across the entire community. We will be looking at various opportunities to provide support and relief to private businesses, individuals and potential city projects.”

Specifically, he said neighborhood roads are a priority.

The focus may be a little different in the rural communities.

The Village of Weston will be receiving estimated funds of more than $300,000.

“We’ve only had real brief discussions. We’re kind of waiting on finding out what we can do with it,” Weston Mayor Jeremy Schroeder said of the funds.

“Stormwater is the only utility that the village actually controls,” Schroeder said, as he is looking at drainage and the network of ditches and the ways they impact areas like Weston.

Not knowing exactly the amount they will receive, or when, Schroeder is also keeping a wait-and-see attitude. There is a broadband option there has been talk in his office about expanding a local network.

“Maybe bring the McClure telephone company into town. They are rapidly expanding their fiber network, which is in Grand Rapids now,” he said.

Work also needs to be done on a small bridge and a culvert under Taylor Street, at the entrance to town. One of the major ditches flows through it.

Estimates of more than $100,000 have been made for various levels of repair or replacement. The area has received minor repairs, but large scale fixes have been repeatedly postponed.

“We definitely don’t have the funds to fix that,” Schroeder said.

Perrysburg Township Trustee Bob Mack said that they will be getting funds on a percentage levelby population of more than $2 million.

He would like to see a capital investment, like a new administration building. Various plans of the last decade have had the cost around $1 million.

“The last thing we would want to do is spend it unwisely. We’ve been talking about our administration building, but there are three trustees that would need to vote on it. That seems like the kind of long term asset the money is intended for. I don’t think we want to spend it on paper clips,” Mack said.

Last year’s CARES Act brought approximately $16 million to the county. This includes all the money disbursed by the county to cities, townships and villages. The county government received $6.9 million of that.

Herringshaw said the economy has generally been doing well in Wood County. The county budget was in the black last year, before the additional money from the CARES Act came in.

“People obviously must have been using their Amazon accounts and doing a lot of mail order things and still spending. We do have sales tax that’s pretty much what it was the year before,” Herringshaw said.

Oestreich said that sales tax revenue in 2020 was up 7% from 2019.

“The beauty of Wood County is we’re all in pretty good fiscal shape. This wasn’t a bailout, by any means,” Oestreich said.

The county did lose revenue from the casino being closed for much of the year and has also been slowly coming back from the 2008 recession when it lost interest on its money.

“That’s a huge amount of money for us. Back before the Great Recession, when the bottom fell out of the economy, we would get $8 million a year (in interest). I think we had maybe a million this last year. It’s a huge amount of money,” Herringshaw said.

She does have general ideas of what the money should go to, most of which she is basing on how CARES Act funding from the previous year ultimately ended up being spent, and knowing the long-term needs of the county.

“I don’t know what will be coming down the pike, but infrastructure is a thing that all the counties and towns are concerned about,” Herringshaw said.

Oestreich forwarded bullet points he received from the U.S. Treasury as instruction for the spending of the funds. They were also to the other levels of government.

• Revenue replacement for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, relative to revenues collected in the most recent fiscal year prior to the emergency.

• COVID-19 expenditures or negative economic impacts of COVID-19, including assistance to small businesses, households, and hard-hit industries, and economic recovery.

• Premium pay for essential workers.

• Investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.