As Iowa communities have received federal money through the American Rescue Plan, possibilities have opened up for counties to pursue necessary development or repair projects to boost their cities and towns.
The Rescue Plan was passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March to help Americans and US cities recover from economic problems caused by the pandemic.
Marshall County received $3.8 million—half of its total funding allotment—in June, and proposals from officials and department heads there have been approved by the board of supervisors.
One proposal was for better election equipment, including COVID-friendly styluses and technology to help the hearing and vision-impaired vote.
Marshall County Auditor Nan Benson said the voice technology was a problem in past elections, so the new technology pronounces names accurately.
“We spent a great deal of time getting our old equipment to work,” she said. “The new equipment is a tablet type. We have a stylus that they’ll be able to use, a disposable stylus.”
The tablets also make handling different ballot types less of a hassle, and improve security.
“It has every ballot on there and basically once you fill it out, you scan a little QR code and it brings up the right ballot for the individual voting,” Benson said.
The election center will also have space for social distancing for in-person voting.
There are also projects to finally repair and update buildings such as the county courthouse, the election center, and the Marshall County Community Services Annex still damaged from 2018 tornadoes.
That includes improvements to HVAC systems for COVID mitigation, touchless faucets, and glass barriers at public counters.
Benson said these repairs were already planned and underway, but the county made adjustments because of the boost provided by the Rescue Plan funding.
Ultimately, she thinks the funding will benefit the county and everyone living there.
“If we can utilize it for things that we know would help us in our budget down the road, then we are helping our local taxpayers if we use this money,” she said.
Benson said the county is only considering requests from county departments, though there are two projects that don’t quite fall in that definition.
One is a renovation of the Marshalltown Arts & Civic Center, which is also being funded by the city. The other is for radios for the Green Mountain Fire Department.
Benson said because Green Mountain isn’t an incorporated city and didn’t have the chance to apply for relief funds, Marshall County committed Rescue Plan money for half of the radio costs.
Guidance for using Rescue Plan funding comes from the US Department of the Treasury. The National Association of Counties (NACo) has held webinars to explain which projects meet federal guidelines.
According to a June NACo presentation—using information from the Treasury Department—sample uses include: supporting public health response, replacing public sector revenue loss, water and sewer infrastructure, addressing negative economic impacts, pay for essential workers, and broadband infrastructure.
“The Fiscal Recovery Fund was established to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery,” the NACo presentation noted.
The recent Iowa State Association of Counties conference also had a discussion about the types of projects allowed by ARPA.
The Marshall County ARPA Committee will meet Thursday to hear proposals from the county attorneys for enhanced supervision in the drug court and funding for the mental health court.