With the news of roughly $7.5 million being distributed to the 17 townships in Washington County, and $12 million being distributed to the county alone, town supervisors and village mayors spoke with NYVT Media reporters to discuss specifics and ideas of what to do with the money being sent by the federal government.
Granville town supervisor Matt Hicks explained the four categories in which the federal stimulus can be expended.
“One of the main things is any cost you have associated with COVID-19… that would be priority number one,” Hicks said.
The other areas involve businesses or organizations that have suffered a loss of revenue infrastructure (water, sewer, broadband), and premium pay for employees.
“Those are four generalities,” Hicks said. “Does it fit in the category, and how can I be sure?”
Hicks said he wanted to be clear in saying nothing is set in stone yet, that there is still some work to be done and guidance to be given by the federal government representatives, as the money is being disbursed from the federal government to the state, and then to the towns.
However, Hicks confirmed that the town and village of Granville will be receiving a combined $710,000 to be split between the two municipalities with an equation that is still being worked on. The money will be available to spend until December 2024, or else it will be returned to the federal government.
“It appears we won’t be seeing any money until as early as June, as late as August,” Hicks said.
He said this applies to any municipality with a population fewer than 50,000 people. Additionally, Hicks stated the municipalities will only receive 50% of their stimulus between June and August of this year.
“The second draw won’t be for at least another 12 months after that,” Hicks said. “We certainly hope we will have those specifics before we get the money.”
Granville Mayor Paul Labas was unable to provide a comment representing the village of Granville by press time, as he awaits more information on the situation.
Hartford town supervisor Dana Haff agreed with Hicks on the need for more guidance from the federal government before committing placing money towards ideas like reimbursing the Hartford Volunteer Fire Company, giving money to Homefront, which gives grants to people needing repairs on their homes that are income-based, and improving broadband accessibility in spotty zones of Hartford.
“I have some ideas, but we still need to mesh it out more,” Haff said. “They want this money to go out the door.”
In terms of broadband expansion and accessibility, Haff said he believes a partnership with Hartford Central School District, which provided hotspots and Chrome books to students learning remotely, would locate positives and negatives, as well as gaps in coverage, and would provide beneficial insight in the study Washington County is going to conduct.
“The school must have an idea of what areas are weak for students… Washington County is going to have a study done to see where gaps are in broadband,” Haff said. “That would help in Hartford to find out where to improve broadband.”
Haff said the broad wording of the stimulus qualifications causes questions for him, as he awaits further guidance as well.
“To get the second half of the money, do you have to spend the first half?” he asked. “The only thing I know for sure is the amount of money we’re getting, $240,000.”
Haff took a moment to explain that he’s cautious of the ever-changing minds and words of lawmakers, as the “pork,” or additional information tacked on to legislation that doesn’t necessarily pertain to the designed goal of the legislation creates a better picture of the large amount of money being dished out.
“It’s funny because they can pass a bill and make up the rules as they go,” Haff said. “This goes to show you how much $2.4 trillion is if a small, rural town like Hartford is if we (only) get $240,000.”
Hampton town supervisor David K. O’Brien said he believes the projected $100,000 to be sent to the town of Hampton would address broadband issues in a mile-and-a-half radius.
“Would it be better to do it more on an individual basis or work as a group?” O’Brien asked.
O’Brien said he would also like to aid the Hampton Fire Department for expenses on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
“The challenge is how do we find the most effective way of reimbursing that,” O’Brien said. “We weren’t as negatively impacted by COVID as some of the other towns and counties have (been).”
While O’Brien said all towns are “in the same boat” by having a necessity of more input from the federal government, Hicks said all towns have a necessity in obtaining a strong broadband connection for all county community members.
“The one thing that we all share, all of the towns in Washington County, we all need to expand rural broadband,” Hicks said.
As for Whitehall, village board members have discussed a couple different options of what they can do with the stimulus money. During the board meeting in March, the village board wants to make sure the money will benefit the community most.
Whitehall town and village will be seeing $463,000 to $563,000 in federal stimulus money within the coming months. The figure for the reimbursement was decided based on the 2019 Census report in accordance with the population at that time. Payments of the funds will be received in two different disbursements according to former mayor Phil Smith. The village will see half of the funds in 2021 and the other half will be dispersed in 2022.
“There was concern that the money was going to go through the state, and the state was going to do a power grab and take a piece of it, but there’s provisions that have been put in there and nothing like that can happen,” he said.
The village board meeting was held on March 16, and during the meeting, Smith mentioned that the money was to be going to the state within 30 days after the meeting and then the funds will be dispersed to the towns and villages from there.
“It could be another 60 to 90 days after that before the village will see it,” Smith said.
The board discussed that nothing has been completely finalized and there are still possibilities of changes being made.
The town board is also in the same place as the village board for the most part. The town will also receive its funds through two disbursements in 2021 and 2022. During the board meeting on March 17, it was mentioned that it may be best to wait for the money first before deciding what to use it on, seeing as they haven’t been told the total of what the town will get.
“I’m not going to do anything until we see it in our pocket,” Smith said.
Whitehall town supervisor John Rozell said the board is still waiting to be notified on how much they will be receiving from the federal funds but mentioned it will be put to good use in Whitehall. There are some ideas flowing through the board as to where the money should be spent.
During the pandemic, Whitehall had to shut down its Recreational Center, Rozell said. But even though the facility was shut down, employees were still being paid.
“We can get reimbursed for that,” he said.
Rozell mentioned there isn’t much infrastructure within Whitehall that the money would be put to, but there are other opportunities within Whitehall that the money could be used for, one of which being shared services.
“Maybe that idea would be shared services with the village for the businesses and that have lost money due to COVID and see if we can reimburse those,” he said.
What Rozell wants the community to know is these are just ideas so far. Nothing has been set in stone and there will be more discussion of where the funds will be spent when the money is received.
“Once we find out what we’ve got, we’ll set out and see what we can put on paper,” he said.