How will Kane County use $103 million in federal relief funds? Officials have some ideas

Kane County Board members may carve "member initiatives" out of the $103 million of federal American Rescue Plan money coming to the county as officials signaled they are in no immediate rush to spend the money.

Officials felt a sense of urgency to spend the CARES Act funds the county received in 2020 to address the immediate health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. But county officials are taking more of a longer view with the latest infusion of federal funds.

During its first meeting, the board committee tasked with overseeing the funds agreed to some basic ideas. They include setting aside $5 million for contingencies and hiring an outside firm to handle all the administrative tasks. The firm would keep track of the money, vet any organizations or people the county gives any of the money to, and handle all the reports back to the U.S. Treasury Department.

All other uses of the money are still in the idea phase. That includes how much cash the county will keep to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic. Some plans envision the county keeping more than half of the money.

"I look at the county as the most important of the entities," board member John Martin said. "To protect our economic interests protects the interests of all our constituents."

But there are other ideas about how to best serve the long-term economic interests of the county.

Board Chair Corinne Pierog again raised the idea of expanding and improving the ability of all county residents to have internet access.

"It's a critical need," she said. "Any investment we make into the community, to me, is not short-term funding but a long-term investment in our residents' health and welfare."

Other ideas on the table include business grants similar to those funded with CARES Act money, the construction of a new county-owned building, and giving each county board member $100,000 earmarks to spend in their districts as they see fit.

That last idea could prove especially popular as incumbent board members will be running for reelection next year in newly drawn districts following the 2020 Census. The initiatives might also help create bipartisan agreement on how those new board districts should be drawn.

"I feel that if everybody gets $100,000 for their district, they are going to get out there and find some way to spend it," said board member Jarett Sanchez. "The best-case scenario is all this money goes to things that outlast the money after it's spent."

County officials must allocate all the money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026.

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