Stimulus could help county’s long-term needs

The most recent federal stimulus package appears to offer Clark County more financial wiggle room than it previously had in its response to COVID-19, and it might offer more than that.

The county is set to receive $94.69 million from the primary funding source in the package, which officially passed March 11. Money will come directly from the federal government in two installments — half this upcoming May and half in May 2022 — and the county has until 2024 to spend it.

Compared with last year’s CARES Act, this round of funding includes more than double the dollar amount and time to spend it. The funding will also bypass the state before making its way to the county, where it can be used for other priorities not directly related to COVID-19.

Councilor Gary Medvigy said during a council time meeting Wednesday that the county could invest the money in some “long-term issues.” He mentioned capital investments, the Clark County Jail and indigent defense contracts.

“There’s a whole array of public policy advancements that we haven’t been able to get to, and this may give us an opportunity to look at how we can get to them,” Medvigy said.

Councilor Temple Lentz broached broadband access and rental assistance as two possibilities.

“We do have the opportunity here to make some really strong strides forward to get us out of the backward place that we’ve been,” Lentz said. “There’s an opportunity here to be creative, and I hope we hear some suggestions that allow us to get there.”

Councilors cautioned, however, against putting outsized pressure on future general fund budgets. The council in November adopted a $557 million budget for this year.

“It’s not about having a bunch of extra money that will release other money,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien said. “This is about replacing what we’ve lost from COVID, so I think we should be very, very cautious about how we move forward with anything else in our general fund.”

The council will hold a work session April 28 to discuss spending priorities. County Finance Director Mark Gassaway said that, in the meantime, he is speaking with county departments about lost revenue, additional expenses for the virus response, reopening expenses and potential longer-term projects.

“I’m getting requests from departments every day about, ‘Can we use the (stimulus) money for this, or can we use the (stimulus) money for that?’ ” Gassaway said Wednesday.

Jack Heffernan

Jack Heffernan

Jack Heffernan is a breaking news reporter and covers Clark County government for The Columbian.

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