The governments of local cities and the county are about to receive millions in funding from the latest federal COVID-19 stimulus package.
But nobody knows yet just what they’ll be allowed to do with the money.
City and county government leaders told us they’re waiting for guidelines from the federal government, but they’ve got some ideas about how they hope they can spend the dollars.
The American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 stimulus package that was passed by Congress this year, is perhaps best known for the $1,400 relief checks it will send to individuals.
But another feature of the plan is that local governments, too, will receive funds. Cities and counties across the nation are expecting payments.
In Douglas County, all 12 cities will receive payments, ranging from $40,000 for Elkton on the low end to $4.79 million for Roseburg on the high end.
Douglas County government is set to receive $21.52 million.
The payments will come in two installments, one this year and one next year.
Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said as the Local Public Health Authority, the county’s first responsibility is to make sure public health needs are met.
And that means taking care of the pandemic response is the top priority he will recommend for the payments the county will receive from the package.
Freeman said it has cost the county millions of dollars to oversee the pandemic response here.
“Nobody else can do that. No other group. The Oregon Health Authority is not here in Douglas County doing public health response. We are responsible for that. We are paying for that,” he said.
The county contracts and pays for the services of the private nonprofit Douglas Public Health Network, which boosted its team from about six employees to about 40. The network brought on epidemiologists to track cases and try to prevent the disease’s spread as well as support staff to take care of the needs of county residents who remained in quarantine after exposure to the virus.
The county also pays for the vaccine clinics, including mass clinics at the Douglas County Fairgrounds and pop-up clinics in rural areas.
And the pandemic isn’t over yet. Freeman said he would like to see some of the stimulus package funds saved to deal with future challenges the pandemic could bring, and for unforeseen emergencies that could come up in the future.
He said his third priority would be to replace revenue that was lost as the county continued to maintain its other services at the level they were before the pandemic.
Roseburg City Manager Nikki Messenger said she hopes the city will be able to use the money for economic development.
“It’s super exciting. The possibilities feel endless right now. That’s why we’re waiting for the rules to get that reined in so we can see what fits,” she said.
Items at the top of her wish list would include a sobering center, sustainable funding for the three-year-old mobile crisis unit and the proposed med ed college.
For Roseburg, with an annual general fund budget of $27 million, $4.79 million over two years is a substantial boost, about six times the $770,000 it received from the CARES Act stimulus funding.
Mark Bauer, city manager of Winston, said when he learned his city was to receive $1.12 million, it was a relief. It’s money that will make a big difference in a town whose general fund budget is about $2.5 million a year.
“It was one of those ‘Yahoo’ moments,” he said.
One thing he’d like to see the money spent on is software to manage the city’s website. He also wants some new software to support the court system to enable better communication with customers.
Myrtle Creek City Manager Sean Negherbon said the city has a list of ideas for how it might like to spend its $710,000.
One possibility is to install a splash pad at the city pool.
“It’s a pretty good-sized chunk of change, so it could definitely pay for that splash pad and then have some left over,” he said.
It was an abnormal year for the kids, he said, and it would be nice to do something for them to help make up for it.
Still, like the other governments, Myrtle Creek doesn’t yet know what it can do with the money.
“We have not received any official guidance at all on how it can be spent. So we’re playing it by ear,” he said.
Here’s how much each city and county government in Douglas County is expected to receive:
- Douglas County: $21.52 million
- Canyonville: $400,000
- Drain: $240,000
- Elkton: $40,000
- Glendale: $180,000
- Myrtle Creek: $710,000
- Oakland: $190,000
- Reedsport: $840,000
- Riddle: $250,000
- Roseburg: $4.79 million
- Sutherlin: $1.67 million
- Winston: $1.12 million
- Yoncalla: $220,000