Klamath County is about to go on a big time shopping spree.
By next spring, the county will have received its full allocation of federal funding — about $13.2 million from the American Rescue Plan. But first, commissioners will get input from the community on how best to spend the money.
The county has already received half of the funds, and has already spent between $1 million and $1.5 million.
The American Rescue Plan allocation committee, formed by the county to assess proposals on how best to use federal funding attached to the American Rescue Plan Act, will meet at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday. The American Rescue Plan funding is known as Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. It consists of $350 billion to be distributed to state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has released a fact sheet detailing how governments can spend their share of the money, and outlined five categories for the funding’s use.
The categories include: to support public health expenditures; to address negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic; to provide governments with funding to replace lost public sector revenue; to provide premium pay for essential workers; and to invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
The county has received more than 30 proposals for using the funds. On Wednesday the committee will listen to community members as they give their presentations on how they believe the $13.2 million would best be spent. Each applicant will get ten minutes to make their case.
County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot said he would like to use the money to help ease the acute housing crisis in Klamath County — a crisis he said has gotten worse during the pandemic.
“I think there is going to be a big conversation around how many of these dollars should be utilized to address the housing crisis in Klamath County,” DeGroot said. “For me, and the work I have been doing over the last several months identifying the community’s needs, the number one priority in this community should be housing.”
DeGroot said if it was up to him, he’d make progress on housing before moving on to other issues.
“Our number one obstacle to real prosperity and growth in this community is housing,” he said. “If we want to address economic development, housing is first. If we want to address our unemployment rate, housing is first. If we want to address community pride, housing is first,” DeGroot said. “I’m going in with an open mind, but at the same time my focus is housing because we can’t address any of the other issues in our community without first addressing the housing crisis.”
The committee consists of the three members of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners — Kelley Minty Morris, DeGroot, and Commissioner Donnie Boyd — Randy Cox, director of the Klamath County Economic Development Association; Heather Harter, executive director of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce; and Ryan McNiven of Merit’s Home Center in Klamath Falls.
Minty Morris said generally, the proposals look really good.
“I am very excited that we put together a public process in order to award these funds,” she said. “We decided we wanted to get public input and give the public an opportunity to provide input. There are some pretty strict guidelines on what is considered eligible, but among what is considered eligible, I am keeping an open mind.”
She said it’s good to have money to spend, rather than having to turn down worthwhile projects.
“Oftentimes at the county we come across really worthwhile things we want to support, but we don’t have the funding,” Minty Morris said. “So this is a unique opportunity where we do have the funding and where we can then pass it to worthy organizations and endeavors.”
Boyd said he would not comment on the matter until after the committee has its meeting on Wednesday.
— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541) 885-4481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess