County weighs options for COVID relief $


By Patsy Nicosia

What to do with $6 million in federal grants?
Economic development?
Something else?
That’s the question Schoharie County could be asking itself if the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act gets passed.
It would be the first COVID relief package with help for local governments, a total of $130 billion to local governments across the United States and more than $400 million to municipalities in New York’s 19th congressional District.
The House had already passed the measure Wednesday, when Congressman Antonio Delgado explained the details—some still being worked out—to about 80 local officials from across NY-19. (Saturday, the US Senate approved its version of the bill. See related story in this week’s Times-Journal.)
Among those on Wednesday’s Zoom call were Bill Federice, chair of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, and County Administrator Steve Wilson.
It’s an understatement to say that the money would be welcome, Mr. Federice said.
“It would be a godsend.”
Congressman Delgado said the American Rescue Plan was written broadly and the idea is that anything geared toward economic development would be funded.
But Mr. Federice said he’s waiting on the details and guidelines before coming up with his wish list.
One possibility is addressing EMS needs in the county—something Mr. Federice singled out as his #1 goal for 2021.
“Would that qualify? Could we use it for ambulances or what we really need, to pay people more? I really don’t know,” he said.
“We’re going to need to wait for the details from the Treasury Department. But it’s certainly welcome news.”
And “a really big deal,” Mr. Wilson said.
“The federal government hasn’t given this kind of money to local government since the ’60s or ’70s. It’s a major change in how they do grants.”
Like Mr. Federice, Mr. Wilson said he’s waiting on the details to tell them exactly what is—and isn’t—eligible for funding.
For example, he said, would economic development include hiring people for positions the county didn’t fill in 2020?
It will be up to supervisors to decide how to use funding from the American Rescue Plan, and even at $6 million, Mr. Wilson said, it won’t go far—especially if it’s used towards something like infrastructure.
“Taken at face value, this is meant to be very, very broad. There are a ton of things here it could be used for,” Mr. Wilson said.
Among them: work on the Route 7 corridor, something the County’s Economic Development Committee is focusing on again after a forced COVID hiatus.
“This will be a one-time thing and I think supervisors will want to use it strategically for one-time costs,” Mr. Wilson added.
Other possibilities for the $6 million might include work on bridges or county facilities; it’s also possible it could be used to pay off the bonds for the jail, Mr. Wilson suggested, letting the county get out from under the interest costs.
The one-year anniversary of COVID restrictions and shut-downs hits this week.
The impact on county finances wasn’t as severe as expected and in fact, sales tax revenues were up about five percent in 2020.
“Still, we got knocked,” Mr. Wilson said, and even as things start to open up as people get vaccinated, the economic impact of COVID will continue.