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January 17, 2021

11/13/2020 2:53:00 PM
Covid relief OK'd by County Board

The county commissioners November 4 unanimously divided out more grants from CARES Act funding, for non-profits and schools this time. Chisago County’s  aid package of $6.7 million has been dispersed in phases since the state apportioned out the monies based on population.

Three “phases” of grants were originally designed in June to be awarded by the county, with small business ordered for shutdown being the first eligible;  followed by non-profits and then general small businesses in the county impacted by   the virus precations.  
The overall applications’ deadline was November 7.

Chisago County earmarked $500,000 for the non-profit phase.  The largest single grant last week was dispersed to Lakes and Pines Community Action Council for $100,000.  

Area school districts with Chisago County families enrolled-- received $63.62 per pupil.  Funding contracts approved last week include:  Chisago Lakes ISD 2144, which gets $192,514.12 for its 3,026 resident students.

North Branch has 2,600 county pupils and was granted $165,412.

Rush City District at 778 pupils with addresses in the county got $49,496.36.

The Forest Lake District counts 1,175 students residing in Chisago County and gets $74,753.50.

Isanti-Cambridge gets $12,787.62 and the Braham District should expect $5,025.98 in CARES Act aid.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $6.7 million to Chisago County.  The county earmarked monies for the county’s own extra-ordinary expenses due to the pandemic,  and named a committee to review applications for the CARES Act grants.

Commissioners Chris DuBose and George McMahon sit on the committee, with county departments heads and administrators. DuBose says the entities in this round of grants could see an increase, depending on amount of funds returned as unspent  from area cities.  
Expenses that are eligible for relief can be estimated out to December 1 and start as of last March.  Applicants had to substantiate their funding requests with documentation pertaining to covid-19 related financial impacts.  

Cities may not distribute all their CARES Act dollars and in that case, the county gets the money back.  Should there be leftover dollars the county isn’t able to  designate,  these get returned to the state.  Minnesota distributed $841 million.

In other discussion at the County Board meeting, the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which is supported by state program aid, generated good debate.  Many counties deposit program aid into their general funds, but Chisago has decided to only use it for one-time capital acquisitions.  Next year it should be $2.5 million.  The downside is there are almost $7 million in requests.

CIP items range from technology upgrades to drone batteries and launchers for ‘less lethal rounds’ to new cement at a park shelter.
County Administrator Chase Burnham commented that this discussion was healthy, and probably the lengthiest conversation the commissioners have had on CIP issues.

The review was scheduled to continue in a budget work session called for this week.

State program aid could  dwindle the result of budget issues relative to COVID-19,  so Chisago County anticipates program aid might be reduced after 2021. The commissioners debated whether to secure items now that the county has needed for years taking advantage of funds while they are at the usual levels.  Items for debate are costly, like seven squad cars instead of six in the CIP,  and plow trucks for $250,000 each.

Commissioner Rick Greene suggested the county engineer get extra funding, over and above what the Plan recommends.  The Board was asked in his motion to support adding $500,000 to Public Works’ for the next year CIP funds.

Commissioner Ben Montzka opposed this,  saying he has concerns over budget impacts.  The Board has a preliminary hike of seven percent in the works for pay-2021 taxes, and Montzka had hoped this could decrease when the final budget vote comes next month.
Commissioner DuBose said the engineer makes wise use of the money he gets, but DuBose didn’t support going outside of the normal CIP process and was uncomfortable not knowing  exactly what this added half-million would go towards.  

The Greene motion to boost the Public Works CIP line item was defeated.

Commissioner McMahon reminded all that there’s about $300,000 left to carryover from the last CIP, which he said ought to be first specifically designated into the new CIP account.
The Board did vote to do just that.  

The public works acquisitions, and possible seven sheriff squads, as requested, not just six-- would be reviewed in the workshop meeting.

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