Local elected officials are keeping a close eye on their accounts these days — but there is still no sign of their share of funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The Knox County Commissioners have for weeks been anticipating the arrival of as much as $4 million in federal funds aimed at bolstering communities through the COVID-19 pandemic; Vincennes is hopeful to get about as much.
But both say they’re still waiting.
“I expect it any moment,” said Vincennes Clerk-Treasurer Cathy Lane. “Last week, we were looking for it. Of course, we want to be sure it’s receipted in.
“But we haven’t heard a word.”
The commissioners expressed a similar sentiment Tuesday during their regular meeting.
“We have no money, no notice of money,” said commission president Trent Hinkle, despite anticipating its arrival back in mid-May.
Even still, the commissioners continue to hash out their potential plans for spending it. The rules associated with it are, by most accounts, still somewhat vague.
So to help gain clarity, commissioner Kellie Streeter has reached out to other county commissioners all over the state. The Indiana Association of County Commissioners plans to gather, she said, on June 10 for a special conference in Indianapolis to share ideas.
“Our heads are spinning,” she said. “We’re all on different islands as to how we may spend this money, so we want to find some uniformity as counties.”
Streeter said she hopes to attend the conference, and she encouraged the others to consider it, too.
“I think there will be a lot of good discussion and questions between counties as to who is doing what and why,” she said.
The commissioners did hold a public hearing last month in an effort to draw interest from the community in terms of how the money should be spent, but it was very sparsely attended.
Streeter said in the weeks since, she has fielded a handful of phone calls from local residents, many of them asking what the commissioners can do to increase housing stock.
Such a complaint has been heard often in Knox County over the last few years, so much so that the Knox County Development Corp. has taken lead on a housing study, and the Vincennes Redevelopment Commission, too, has partnered with three developers so far to help with the infrastructure costs associated with pending housing projects.
“And I think that is one topic we should get on the record for our working (ARPA) plan,” Streeter said referencing the federally-mandated planning document for how the money will be spent.
The only thing local elected officials know for sure is that the money can certainly be used to cover funding shortfalls directly caused by COVID-19. One area both the city and county saw that directly is in the gas tax collected at the pumps.
Hoosiers stopped traveling amid the pandemic, so locals’ share of the Motor Vehicle Highway tax diminished.
The commissioners have said they are likely to use some of the funds to bolster that account, and Mayor Joe Yochum said that, too, is likely in the city’s case.
“But we’re working with our accountants,” he said of consultants with Reedy Financial in Seymour. “There’s so much we don’t know right now, but I am hopeful they will loosen the restrictions.
“Even if we can only spend this money on water and sewer projects, believe me, we can spend it.”