By Zach Solon | March 31, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT – Updated March 31 at 11:34 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – New Hanover County is set to receive around $45.4 million from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month. Today, County Manager Chris Coudriet laid out his proposal for how the county plans to allocate the funds the receive from the federal government.
The spending plan is broken down into eight segments: Broadband connectivity, business and employment assistance, mortgage assistance, physical and mental health resources, infrastructure and emergency management improvements, revenue replacements, bonuses for county employees, and reserve funding.
“I don’t think that we’ve decided to de-emphasize one thing to do more of some thing else,” says Coudriet. “We’ve tried to be as consistent with the big vision of Congress as we think we can and based on what our community needs.”
The proposal allocates $5.8 million towards providing WiFi access to 8,000 homes in need for two years. Coudriet emphasizes that this includes households with children and receiving Medicaid or food and nutrition benefits.
$3.8 million is budgeted for business grants that, unlike previous grants from the county, will be based on the number of employees the company has. While the money from the American Rescue Act will come to the county in two separate waves, Coudriet says he considers these grants a priority.
“How we look at the business grants, in my mind, because the objective is to push it as much cash as we can into the community,” says Coudriet, “those should be top of the list and out of the first tranche of money.”
The county wants to use the money it receives from the federal government to help alleviate some of the issues caused by the pandemic. The proposal sets aside $3 million for mortgage assistance. According to the plan, this would be on top of the $7 million already underway through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Over $4 million is listed to improve physical and mental health in the county, specifically in schools and among senior citizens. The plan is to guarantee access to mental health counselors at public schools for at least two years and establish a mental health outreach team through the Senior Resource center. Included in this section of the proposal is the establishment of a Senior Resource Center in southern New Hanover County.
In the largest portion of the proposal, $12 million is allocated for infrastructure improvements. Included here are new sewer extensions along Sidbury Road with the hopes to create new affordable housing units in the future. According to the plan, “the intention is to lower development costs to provide affordable housing.”
Also included in this part of the county’s proposal is funding for nonprofit homeless shelters that have been denied reimbursements from FEMA.
“Some of our nonprofits have been terribly disrupted by this that they need a bridge to the future,” says Coudriet. “If they are still here in 12 months, 24 months, December 31 of 2024 (the deadline for spending the funds), still providing their services effectively well we’re going to consider that a success.”
Another section of the proposal says the county plans to “reimburse sales tax revenue that didn’t meet projections to ensure the county remains on solid financial footing.” They plan to contribute $3.2 million for this purpose.
Bonuses for County Employees
To thank county employees for their tireless work during the pandemic, bonsuses will be provided from the $6.2 million allocated for them. Coudriet says they have been playing a critical role in guiding the county through the pandemic.
“We are asking people to do a lot of things that they had never been asked to do before,” says Coudriet. “We’re doing it when the health experts around the world really didn’t understand the risk to the disease.”
Another $6.9 million will be set aside for future expenses. All of the money received must be spent by the end of 2024.
The county board of commissioners will vote on the proposal this Monday, April 5. Coudriet says he expects spending to begin this summer.
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