ASHLAND — Money from Uncle Sam has arrived in Ashland County to the tune of $5,194,320, but plans on how to use the American Rescue Plan money are still not set in stone.
County commissioners approved the federal stimulus money Thursday, with President Denny Bittle needing to read the figure twice into the record before realizing the number was in the millions, instead of thousands.
“That number scares me, so I didn’t know how to read that,” he said.
The county is slated to receive the second half of the ARP funds by this time next year. Governments must appropriate the money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026.
The money is being sent to counties, municipalities, cities and villages. It’s unclear if townships will receive ARP funds, as they did with CARES Act money in 2020.
While it waits to be spent, Ashland County’s $5.1 million earns interest in Park National Bank and the State Treasury Asset Reserve of Ohio, said Treasurer Angie McQuillen.
Commissioners said interest earned on that money can be used for anything.
But the returns are low, said McQuillen. The interest rate at STAR currently sits at 0.08%, meaning the $3 million in that account will earn the county $197 a month.
The rate at Park National Bank is much lower. That rate is 0.025%, she said.
“I would like to invest it in federal notes or something, but I don’t know when (commissioners) will need it,” McQuillen said.
She said she only put $3 million in STAR because she was unsure of commissioners' plans.
Bittle said he and fellow commissioners Jim Justice and Michael Welch met with the mayor of the county’s villages recently to discuss possible projects surrounding water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.
“That was the first step of what we’re doing to continue the investigation of how to best use that money,” Bittle said. “We’re not going to make these decisions tomorrow.”
Another possibility includes putting new windows and doors in the courthouse, he said. When the commissioners looked into that project about a year ago, the estimates hovered around $300,000 to $400,000, Bittle said.
“Right now we’re just compiling information and not making any decisions,” Welch said.
Bittle said his personal opinion is to not do anything with the money this year, “until we get some more information on what everybody else is doing.”
City of Ashland also receiving ARP money
The City of Ashland is slated to receive $3.98 million in total ARP funds.
Mayor Matt Miller said the city has not received the funds and that officials haven’t received word on when that might happen.
Ashland is considered a small city, which the federal government calls a “non-entitlement unit,” or a city with a population of less than 50,000. That means Ashland’s ARP money will be administered by the State of Ohio.
Miller has said plans are not set on how to use the money, but that “we will put it to good use.”
He said at least a portion of the money will be used to replenish tax revenues that experienced dips over the last year. Other possibilities include improving the city’s infrastructure, specifically water and sewer lines and installing sidewalks.
Other possibilities include building a new headquarters for Ashland Public Transit, he said.
Miller said nothing has been decided and that council will discuss possibilities publicly in coming months.
“But we haven’t established a formal meeting to submit ideas or anything,” he said.
Alison Goebel, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, a think tank based in Columbus, has advised local leaders to work together in determining strategies in finding the best ways to invest the money.
“By strategic, I mean make sure investments work together toward community goals rather than being piecemeal or scattershot,” she said during a May webinar with local leaders in Richland, Ashland and Knox counties.
It’s a sentiment Miller, who was part of the webinar, agrees with.
“We see this money as tax dollars,” he said. “It isn’t magic money or special money. Therefore, we want to spend them on projects that have a long lifespan and benefit our community for the long-term.”