County has big ideas for COVID-19 relief funds


GREENFIELD –The Hancock County government hasn’t yet decided how to spend the millions of dollars it will receive from the latest round of COVID-19 relief legislation, but it plans to be ambitious.

The county will receive approximately $15.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed in March. At a Tuesday, April 20, meeting of the Hancock County Council and Board of Commissioners, officials indicated they’d like to use the money to invest in in at least one major, lasting project.

“After eight years being here, I’d like to actually solve something,” Commissioner John Jessup said.

The county will receive the biggest share of a total of about $23.7 million coming to local governments as part of the latest stimulus. The county’s school districts will receive an estimated $5.4 million, as the Daily Reporter reported in a story on Wednesday, April 21.

As for the county’s share, county council member Jim Shelby said the council and the commissioners are planning to work together on creating a plan for spending the money. Shelby said the county hopes to invest in infrastructure and would also be interested in spending some of the money to assist local nonprofits.

At the meeting, county council member Kent Fisk said one possible project he’d like to see the county invest in is a new space at the county fairgrounds, where large agricultural shows and other events could be held. He said Hancock County is well-positioned to attract large, profitable events that are looking for a destination other than Marion County. The community already has the hotel space it would need to host those functions, he noted.

“We turn down national (agricultural) events all the time,” Fisk said. “They’re dying to get out of Indianapolis.”

If the county found the right partner, Fisk said, a new facility at the fairgrounds could be a location for locally offered technical education courses in agricultural or other topics. He said area high schools do not offer enough of this type of education, and students looking for vocational training often go to nearby counties to receive it.

County leaders for years have pondered the idea of improving facilities at the fairgrounds or relocating it. The idea that had long been discussed — moving the fairgrounds to the county farm east of Greenfield — suffered a blow when the county decided to build the new jail there.

Building an events space at the current fairgrounds would address leaders’ longstanding desire to make improvements.

County financial adviser Greg Guerrettaz suggested another possibility for the county to pursue could be the creation of a sewer district, serving part of or all of the county. He said the county not only would be able to use stimulus funds for that purpose, but would likely be able to apply for water and sewer grants from the state of Indiana.

A key priority for the county to consider when choosing how to spend the money, Guerretazz said, is ensuring that the project will be sustainable in future years.

“The number one key thing and main thing in everything I do is growing this county in an economic, smart-growth way for the next five to 10 years,” he said.

Council member Mary Noe said officials will rely on Guerrettaz for advice about what uses of the money would be permitted.

“We really need Greg’s guidance on that because it’s very specific about what we can and can’t do,” she said.

County officials agreed they were in no hurry to decide how to best spend the funds, which they have not yet received. A committee consisting of members of the council and the commissioners will meet to consider it further.

The American Rescue Plan legislation, one of the first items passed by Biden’s administration and the newly Democratic-controlled Senate, aimed to deliver COVID-19 relief in a broad spectrum of areas. The legislation included the direct payments of $1,400 to most Americans as well as funding to county and municipal governments. Governments can use the funding for a variety of things, including covering COVID-related funding shortfalls and investing in infrastructure.

Incorporated cities and towns in Hancock County will also be getting American Rescue Plan funding. The City of Greenfield is receiving the largest amount, approximately $4.79 million; followed by the town of McCordsville with $1.56 million. Fortville, New Palestine, Shirley, Wilkinson and Spring Lake will get smaller amounts.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said he and the city’s clerk-treasurer will be discussing what to do with the funds once they have more information about what it can be used for. He said it would be an ideal use of the money to use it as matching funds for a grant-funded infrastructure project of some kind.

In McCordsville, town manager Tonya Galbraith said leaders also have no definitive spending plans as of yet. She said the town will be seeking as much clarity as possible on how the money can be spent.

New Palestine Clerk-Treasurer Yvonne Jonas said the town hasn’t yet made plans for how it will spend its share of the money. Jonas said her office will work together with the town council to come up with a plan for where to invest the money, and may engage outside consultants for advice.

New Palestine will receive about $530,000.

“I want to be real cautious on how we’re spending it,” she said.

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Local governments will receive various amounts of funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, based on their population. The following amounts will be distributed from the federal government. Figures are estimates provided by the Senate Democratic leadership.

Hancock County: $15,600,000

Fortville: $870,000

Greenfield: $4,790,000

McCordsville: $1,560,000

New Palestine: $530,000

Shirley: $190,000

Spring Lake: $50,000

Wilkinson: $90,000