Kane County to receive another $103 million in federal COVID assistance
The federal American Rescue Plan will put another $103.3 million in Kane County's coffers to help address the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but county board members are already split on the best ways to use it.
The county should receive the first payment of $51.6 million in April, with a second payment for an identical amount possibly as soon as April 2022. Early guidelines call for it to be spent by the end of 2024.
However, the final spending deadline for funds made available through the previous rescue plan, the CARES Act, proved to be fluid. For example, Kane County still has $643,000 in CARES Act money despite an initial spending deadline of Dec. 31, 2020.
With that in mind, county board member Bill Lenert asked colleagues on the finance committee to create a plan that would allocate 10% of the funds to help balance the budget for the next decade.
Lenert believes the money could help fund payroll expenses during that time, especially with a variety of the county's labor contracts expiring. The new agreements are expected to add up to $3 million in new salary costs to the budget. Lenert is banking on the federal government being flexible with the 2024 spending deadline.
"I think everybody in this county is very cognizant that we have to watch our finances, and we cannot spend our money on wants," he said.
Lenert's second idea is to return half the $103.3 million to local property taxpayers. His calculations estimate that would mean a payment of $255 for the owner of each taxpaying parcel in the county.
"It doesn't sound like a lot, but it might handle your groceries for two weeks or a car payment or even help pay your future property taxes," he said.
But board member Vern Tepe said he would not support such a rebate because it would mean even people who did not take a negative hit from the pandemic would receive a financial benefit. There are too many people still struggling to regain their financial footing to give money to those who don't need it, Tepe said.
He suggested using some of the money to bolster the various rent relief and repayment programs offered separately from the American Rescue Plan.
"To give a rebate would be against the spirit of what I think this money is to be used for," Tepe said. "We need to help the people that were affected by COVID."
County board Chair Corinne Pierog also expressed concern with the idea of using a one-time windfall to fund employee raises. That will create an expense that will far outlive the federal relief money, she said.
There was some initial bipartisan agreement to use the money to make sure the county gets back on, and remains on, solid financial footing for as long as possible.
Board members agreed they'd like the entire board to present thoughts and ideas for the best use of the money at a meeting in April.