With Minnesota counties and cities getting some big chunks of money from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, this could be a historic opportunity to collaborate on infrastructure and other projects for the long term good of their communities, said Matt Hilgart, government relations manager with the Association of Minnesota Counties.
Becker County is estimated to receive $6.68 million, according to U.S. Sen. Tina Smith’s office, which also provided estimated amounts going to other area counties:
- $11.39 million to Otter Tail County.
- $4.17 million to Hubbard County.
- $12.46 million to Clay County.
- $1.07 million to Mahnomen County.
The city of Detroit Lakes expects to receive about $1.06 million, said City Administrator Kelcey Klemm.
“We are supposed to receive half sometime in the next 60 days, and the other half 12 months after the first payment,” Klemm said in an email. “We haven’t received any federal guidance on how the funds can be spent. Subsequently, we haven’t had any discussion with the City Council on how they will be spent.”
Becker County is in the same boat. “We have not received the funds yet, and there is very little guidance out there as to how the funds are to be spent,” Becker County Administrator Mike Brethorst said in an email.
“The first half of the funds are anticipated to arrive in June,” he added. “So we are waiting for guidance prior to setting out any sort of plan.”
Despite the initial confusion, counties will have plenty of time to decide how best to spend the money, since it does not have to be used until Dec. 31, 2024, Hilgart said.
The U.S. Treasury Department has not yet made it clear to the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget -- which then informs counties and cities -- what restrictions apply on spending the money, Hilgart said.
“It’s a 650 page bill, and the local government section is 25 pages, but it’s still pretty general,” he said. Still, “there’s more flexibility than counties had with the CARES Act to spend it on local projects,” he said. “Right now, we’re in the information gathering stage, there’s a shortage of information,” he added.
But he does know that counties won’t have to rush to use the money. Unlike CARES Act money, which had to be spent within six months, counties and cities will have several years to plan and implement their strategies for using American Rescue Plan funds.
“The new round of funding is more flexible,” and will allow for partnering around infrastructure and other projects, “almost like a domestic Marshall Plan,” he said. “It’s a historic opportunity for counties across Minnesota to collaborate and do long term planning.”
Counties had to spend the CARES Act money “in half a year, it put them under an extraordinary amount of pressure,” he said. “We have until 2024 with this funding.”
County commissioners will have some decisions to make, Hilgart said.
“How can we work together, make sure we’re not duplicating efforts, and find other counties to do this with?”
And he hopes people pay attention to those decisions.
“These are huge amounts of dollars -- people should know how the money is spent. A lot of good could come from it, and people should know about that, too.”
The American Rescue Plan will deliver an estimated total of $4.9 billion to Minnesota governments, including approximately $2.6 billion to the state, and more than $2 billion to counties, cities and other local governments, according to Smith's office..