Canadian County Commissioners undecided on stimulus help

Canadian County eligible to receive $28.8M from American Rescue Plan

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Left: Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart; Right: District 1 Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

EL RENO – Canadian County leaders have not yet decided whether to formally request funding through a federal stimulus package.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 could provide Canadian County some $28 million to be spent on infrastructure and other projects.

“We’re looking at roughly $28 million to be distributed – $14 million now and the other $14 million one year from now,” Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart said.

The Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma (ACCO) and National Association of Counties (NACo) are trying to determine how these funds may be spent, Stewart told fellow commissioners May 17.

But it is still not clear.

Canadian County Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore

“There’s just not a lot of guidance right now,” Canadian County Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore told commissioners. “There is a lot of grey area still on what the money can be spent on.”

Chairman Stewart said he would try to get clarity at this week’s ACCO board meeting before commissioners decide whether to proceed.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March.

The act is designed to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing recession.

Amounts distributed to counties are based on population, with Oklahoma and Tulsa counties topping the list.

Cleveland County, Oklahoma’s third largest county, has been designated to receive $56 million. Canadian County, as the fourth largest, would get $28.8 million.

“Each city is allotted other amounts as well,” Skidmore said.

When a federal economic recovery incentive package was available in 2009 during the Obama Administration, Canadian County declined to accept funding.

SKEPTICISM ABOUNDS

District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader expressed skepticism about the latest federal stimulus program.

Commissioner Hader has strong reservations about distribution of these funds to county and local government entities.

“It’s money that we don’t have,” Hader said. “It’s fake money. It’s printed at the Treasury, borrowed from China. It’s just putting our kids and grandkids greater in debt.”

Chairman Jack Stewart agreed with concerns about the rising national debt.

“We’re going to be paying it back forever and ever,” said Stewart, the District 3 commissioner.

County commissioners did discuss “infrastructure-type” items this federal funding could help with:

  • Rural Internet broadband. This is greatly needed, especially in the western part of Canadian County: “The north half of Piedmont, I can’t even get a signal,” Hader said.
  • Water/sewer lines and water treatment projects. The Central Oklahoma Water Resource Authority has been studying options to secure a long-term water source to reduce Canadian County’s reliance on Oklahoma City’s water supply.

Should commissioners decide to participate in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, Chairman Stewart said his “big hope” is that Canadian County can use a substantial portion of funds to improve county roads.

“That’s where I need it – in the roads, even though we do need rural water lines and rural broadband,” he said. “But there’s going to be plenty for all of that.”

But Commissioner Hader is skeptical these funds could be used for roads.

The Biden Administration has discussed yet another stimulus package – which Hader emphasized he also opposes.

Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries referred county commissioners to the newly released American Rescue Plan of 2021 rule provided by the U.S. Treasury.

Humphries told commissioners the Treasury Department has “pushed something out” providing guidance on how funds must be spent.

“Someone just needs to start digesting it,” Humphries said. “It has the details.

“Someone just really needs to ‘dig in’. There’s revenue replacement, so there may be some road money – if you all can show that gross production dipped, use tax dipped, sales tax dipped.”

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NEW HIRE?

Should they decide to participate in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, Canadian County officials agreed they would have to hire at least one new full-time employee to oversee the program.

“It’s going to involve a lot of planning, a lot of discussion and a lot of time on someone’s part to track the expenditure of $28 million,” District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson said.

This large federal funding program could not be established and administered using current Canadian County staff, Chairman Stewart added.

“It’s just too much; we couldn’t do it,” Stewart said. “But the money would be there to pay for that staff person.”

Skidmore whole-heartedly agreed – since these are federal funds that would have to be tracked.

“It’s going to be a full-time job, for sure,” he said. “It’s going to be a full-time position.

“The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) funds were difficult to track. I believe this is going to be much more difficult.”

Commissioners, at their May 17th meeting, took no action on Canadian County’s potential involvement in the American Rescue Plan of 2021.

Chairman Stewart indicated they could revisit the item at a future meeting after learning more details about the program.