The buzz in Des Moines County over the past few months has been the American Rescue Plan Act funds that the county has received or will soon receive.
In total, the county is expected to receive around $ 7.5 million to use for COVID-19-related expenses. The Des Moines County Board of Supervisors has already decided on a project, but requests for more are emerging, with supervisors having work sessions almost every week to hear requests for a piece of the pie.
Supervisors have already sent out a request for qualification to have someone construct a new building for Des Moines County Public Health. The cost of this project has not yet been determined.
According to preliminary discussions, the new building will have to have a large parking space, individual workstations, space for public and community health meetings. What the public health building might still have up its sleeves will depend on what supervisors are willing to approve.
In the meantime, council has heard requests for everything from housing projects to the high school internship program. There could be more projects on the horizon as supervisors continue to sift through what they can and can’t spend the county’s APRA money for.
The projects must be part of the authorized use provided for in the bill. Here are the requests the council has heard so far.
Following:Des Moines County and Burlington area officials eager to learn how they can spend the new federal stimulus money
Des Moines County Housing Project
Cost: $ 1 million
Applicants: Greater Burlington Partnership, Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission and Bob Bartels
What it is: Under the proposal, Des Moines County supervisors would provide a grant to help bring Homes for Iowa to Des Moines County. Through the Homes for Iowa program, homes are built by inmates and later moved to their permanent land. They typically have a profile of three bedrooms and one bath or four bedrooms and two bathrooms. These homes cost around $ 160,000 and only families earning less than $ 100,000 a year can buy them.
Good: A recurring theme of discussion among those in the area of county economic development is the lack of adequate housing stock. Homes for Iowa would provide mid-size homes for less than they would be if the homes were built by contractors. Homes for Iowa also helps inmates learn skills, with the goal of getting out of jail and being able to find employment.
The bad: Supervisor Tom Broeker has said he’s concerned about what county subsidizing specific developers will do to the cost of housing in Des Moines County. Meanwhile, Supervisor Shane McCampbell said he was concerned that subsidized homes would be out of reach for Des Moines County residents who need them the most.
Filling lost income
Cost: Around $ 800,000
What it is: An authorized use of ARPA funds is to replace lost income. To be eligible for a replacement, the county must prove that the loss of income was directly due to COVID-19. Des Moines County Budget Manager Cheryl McVey has identified approximately $ 800,000 in lost revenue directly attributable to COVID-19.
Justification: Replacement of lost income
Good: This would help fill in gaps that might otherwise go unaddressed or that need to be addressed by raising taxes for Des Moines County taxpayers.
Assistance with the detention of minors
Applicant: This article was not officially requested, but mentioned by Supervisor Jim Cary.
Justification: Not clear
What it is: Housing costs in juvenile detention have increased due to COVID-19, and Des Moines County is already contributing to juvenile detention. If this request is accepted, the county will send more money towards juvenile detention.
Split a cell block in half at Des Moines County Jail
Applicant: This article was not requested but was mentioned by McCampbell.
What it is: Des Moines County Jail now only has two cell blocks, with each block having around 30 cells. Because the cell blocks are so large, the prison does not have the capacity to separate inmates with COVID-19 from the rest of the population. This project would divide one of the cell blocks in half.
Justification: COVID-19 prevention
Good: Since the county would create two small cell blocks, it is possible that the other cell block could be used for other special cases or special programming.
County telephone system upgrade
Cost: Unknown, but should be around $ 100,000
Applicant: Colin Gerst, IT Director for Des Moines County
What it is: County would spend money to switch to a new phone system.
Good: Upgrading the county phone system would lead to a host of other advancements the county would miss due to the lack of an upgraded phone system.
Greater Burlington Partnership High School Intern Program
Cost: $ 50,000
Applicant: Della Schmidt, CEO of the Greater Burlington Partnership
What it is: In this program, high school students in Burlington and West Burlington would help match employers in Des Moines County with their high school peers. Interns would be paid a certain amount for their work and would receive a stipend when they got their classmates to start a job.
Justification: Economic development
Good: The program would aim to help businesses tackle labor shortages. According to Schmidt, many vacant positions could be filled by high school students. High school recruiters would gain work experience and spending money, while high school recruiters would gain valuable experience to put on their resumes.
Following:Greater Burlington Partnership requests COVID relief funds for high school internship program
The bad: Cary, the only county supervisor who does not live in the city of Burlington, said he thought it was unfair for the county to invest money in a program that would only benefit Burlington students.
Economic Assistance for Des Moines County Businesses
Cost: $ 250,000
What it is: The GBP would administer a grant program to help businesses that have suffered from COVID-19. The partnership would take about $ 25,000 of this grant for administration and the rest would go to businesses in need.
Justification: Economic development
Good: Many businesses have suffered from COVID-19 and this money would help some of these businesses recoup their losses.
The bad: Broeker expressed concern that the county would pick winners and losers.
Conservation Service Fund
Applicant: Des Moines County Conservation Council
Cost: $ 450,000
What it is: Des Moines County Conservation has the number of needs, including a new store and more workspace. The conservation council also wants to expand broadband access to Big Hollow to make Wi-Fi more reliable.
Justification: Not clear
Good: Numbers in Des Moines County parks have increased in both 2020 and 2021. That would be a way of directing ARPA funds to a program that has been used much more due to COVID-19.
The bad: Due to the strict standards of what can be used from ARPA funds, Broeker is not sure that conservation can be considered a pandemic expense.
Scanning software for select Des Moines County offices
Applicant: Listener Terri Johnson and recorder Natalie Steffener
Cost: About $ 100,000
What it is: When residents of Des Moines County need information from the Auditor’s Office or the Registrar’s Office, they should get it from the office in person as there is no scanning and copies are made for a cost . This would allow the office to digitize some of its old files so that it can be up to date with new technology.
Applicant: Danville Telecom
What it is: County supervisors would provide funds to Danville Telecom to expand broadband access to those living in underserved areas of Des Moines County. Broadband is expensive, with an installation cost per mile rather than per service. For this reason, building broadband lines for people living in isolated areas is not economically viable without assistance.
Good: This article would provide broadband access to dozens of residents of Des Moines County.
Following:Lee County receives $ 5.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand broadband
The bad: This article would exclusively target residents of Des Moines County who live in extremely rural areas and would not provide much benefit to other residents.
Following:Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan for “nation’s greatest broadband development” receives support during visit to Burlington