WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners will make in-person visits to township and small city officials if needed to get all entities to apply for the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding being offered to them.
During a work session Thursday afternoon at the Nobles County Government Center board room, Deputy Nobles County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp said he’s reached out to all of the townships personally, and many of their leaders have said they don’t plan to apply for the funds.
Heitkamp said the lack of information provided to township officials is to blame.
Commissioner Matt Widboom suggested he and other board members who serve primarily rural areas of the county take it upon themselves to personally visit township clerks or board members with the paperwork to see that the applications are filed. If townships don’t claim the money, it stays in the state’s kitty. However, if the township claims the money and turns it over to the county, those funds could benefit local small businesses impacted by COVID-19, as well as to purchase personal protective equipment for local school districts and emergency personnel.
Townships have until mid-September to apply for their funds, and the only thing standing between them and the money is a simple one-page certification form.
Widboom’s suggestion came after County Administrator Tom Johnson suggested setting up multiple hearings within commissioner districts to get the word out about the CARES Act money.
“I’m just concerned that continuous meetings are going to delay getting the money out,” Widboom said. “I understand our interest of getting everyone’s opinion and get it right, but there’s also the opinion that we’ve got to get this going.”
Commissioner Donald Linssen said he’s heard concerns about what is required in the paperwork.
“Some of the people are not computer savvy, and they’re probably the ones that need (the money) the worst,” Linssen said.
Heitkamp said nearly all of Nobles County’s townships have yet to apply for the funds designated for them. If all 20 townships completed their certification, it would bring another $86,725 in CARES Act money into the county. Leota Township would receive the highest amount at $9,400.
“Every township needs to apply — we need every single dollar,” Widboom said.
With the CARES Act funds, the county anticipates setting aside roughly 80% for an economic recovery program for small businesses. A three-tier program developed and coordinated by the city of Worthington is likely to be approved by county commissioners within the next few weeks.
In other discussion Thursday, commissioners had their first look at the 2021 county budget. Johnson said most every department “worked really hard” to keep their budget flat or reduce it.
While revenues are down this year with COVID-19, Johnson fears that next year will be even worse, and said he thinks revenues may be overestimated in the budget projection.
“Historically we’ve never spent a lot of time on revenue. We’ve never had a strong reason to, but I think we do this year,” he said.
Commissioners will continue to evaluate and discuss the 2021 budget during the next five months.
Also on Thursday, Heitkamp presented commissioners with a proposal to hire a firm to complete aerial photography to add to the county’s GIS data. The imagery would be used by the assessor’s office, as well as numerous other county offices, watershed districts and the soil and water conservation district, he said.
The three-phase project would cost more than $1 million for four flyovers that would generate LiDAR, ortho and oblique imagery. The first phase would be done next spring, the second in the spring of 2024 and the third in the spring of 2027, giving the county three years to pay for each phase.
Heitkamp said Riparian Aid funds, as well as the Recorder’s Compliance fund dollars would be used to help pay for the imagery.
“The dollars are out there,” he said, adding that 75% to 80% of the costs could be covered by Riparian Aid funds.
Commissioners couldn’t provide any formal answer on the project because board action is not allowed in a work session. The proposal will, however, be on Tuesday’s Nobles County Board agenda for consideration.