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McHenry County to make some federal pandemic relief dollars available to public

McHenry County is working on a plan to make a portion of the $59.7 million the county received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan available to the public and other small units of government later this year.

The county has been partnering with Bronner, a government consulting group, to put together a plan for making up to $29 million the county received from the federal government available for public use. The county is working on opening an application toward the end of October for non-profits and units of government that did not receive money from the American Rescue Plan to apply for grants that would be distributed toward the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

“We’re trying to get some of these dollars into the community like Congress intended,” McHenry County Administrator Pete Austin told the county’s finance and audit committee Thursday.

Bronner will help the county with evaluating initial applications, then later in the process the county and Bronner will recommend applicants to the County Board to receive approval for grants, according to Bronner’s presentation Thursday.

The applicants will be graded on a weighted scaled. The most important factors will be how well a proposed project’s impact outweighs the level of effort required to carry it out and if the project can be completed on time and on budget. Other factors include demonstrating a need for the project and if the project requires additional funding in the future.

The ability for applicants to receive matching funds is also one of the factors with a lower weight, which some board members hoped would not prevent good projects from receiving a grant if finding matching funds is difficult.

“Some of the smaller communities that are really tight on their finances would possibly have difficulty,” said board member Larry Smith, R-Harvard.

Bronner said having alternative funding sources can be helpful for groups pursuing projects, but the weighted scale will make sure other factors such as the project’s impact on communities will receive higher consideration.

Some projects that could receive funding from the county include infrastructure upgrades, workforce development and non-profits. The county is planning to save at least half of the $59.7 million for their own use on public projects and pandemic-related needs. Bronner representatives said the examples follow the U.S. Treasury Department’s approved uses for the funds.

“There’s pretty broad uses illustrated here,” Bronner consultant Louis Makarewicz said.

While many municipalities in McHenry County have received $38 million from the American Rescue Plan and school districts received $34.2 million, other units of government such as townships did not receive funding, according to the county.

Board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, said he feels like the application process is good and giving aid to the community is a good idea, but wants to be sure the county knows how much it will give to different kinds of projects.

“At the end of the day, the $59 million belongs to the county and we’re here to represent the county. We really need to understand what is behind the category numbers,” Schwartz said.

Plans are also being made to host informational sessions for applicants to learn more about the process and projects the funds can pay for.

Other funding sources could also change how much the county allocates for specific kinds of projects.

“I was thinking with the infrastructure bill [being considered by Congress], then we wouldn’t need the $14 million in there, we could reduce that for other things,” board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, said.

The largest category for funding projects is infrastructure, with an estimated $14 million being available for capital projects. However, Austin said exact dollar amounts allocated for specific categories can change over time, especially if alternative funding sources like an infrastructure package currently being considered by Congress become available.

The county is also considering allocated $8 million to economic development, almost $3 million to small governments like townships, and almost $3 million for non-profits.

The County Board is expected to give the county administration approval to move forward on distributing relief dollars at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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