Crow Wing County Council plans to use federal relief funds


The Crow Wing County Board of Directors heard a staff proposal on Tuesday, October 19, which included five spending priorities for the $ 6.3 million: help alleviate child care shortages, boost spending to expand broadband access and infrastructure, including sewage and water, Crow Wing County Department internal needs, county government capital improvements and funds to ensure the future independence of Collaboration Services at the family of the Lake District.


County administrator Tim Houle presented the proposed program, adding that decisions on fund allocation ultimately rest with county council, provided spending is aligned with federal government directions. CFO Nick Mielke told commissioners that the wording of the law passed by Congress authorizing relief funds for local governments said those dollars could be spent on public health, tackling negative economic impacts, offer a bonus for essential workers, lost government revenue or broadband, sewers or water infrastructure projects.

Commissioners are expected to vote on Houle’s permission to run the first phase of the program at their meeting on Tuesday, October 26.

A grant application process to alleviate the lack of available child care spaces in Crow Wing County was the first suggested use of funds donated by Houle, totaling $ 500,000.

“We believe that child care is currently one of the limits to economic growth that we are facing,” Houle said. “Historically we have been chasing chimneys, but right now we are chasing people. And you can see it by walking down Washington Avenue and looking at the “Help Wanted” signs. So daycare is one of the things we hear to be a problem for people trying to get into the workplace.

Tyler Glynn, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp., told commissioners that a recent study of employers, parents and daycare centers in the county found a need for at least 1,200 more spaces for children to children receive care.

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He noted that two projects currently underway could lead to an increase in capacity. Brainerd Family YMCA has a purchase agreement to purchase a building in downtown Brainerd for a dedicated child care center with up to 85 more spaces and is in the process of securing funds. The Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby is working with the Crosby-Ironton School District to establish 24/7 child care services with up to 75 children to serve. Both can help make a dent, Glynn noted, but fail to close the gap.

Staff shortages extend to the daycares themselves, Glynn pointed out, and capacity alone doesn’t solve the problems. This is why the Little Falls Foundation Initiative is working with Central Lakes College to create a tuition incentive program to encourage people to participate in an eight-month program to pursue careers in childcare. children.

“I see this as a step in the right direction, and I think we can really make an impact here if we put resources into it. … With some of that funding, we can help with the license, help with the start-up costs, ”Glynn said. “We still need bodies, like everything else. It is a big step in the right direction to use these funds. “

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Soliciting proposals from Internet service providers and the county’s three sanitary sewer districts was the next suggested part of a program to distribute federal relief dollars. Houle suggested that a million dollars be set aside for this purpose, with applicants agreeing to fund at least 20% of the cost of their proposed projects. And depending on the location of the infrastructure, Houle noted that working with township governments to leverage some of their federal funds could help stretch the dollars further.

Crow Wing County previously gave part of its allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, to the CTC for a broadband expansion project, which it says county officials, would help support a growing dependence on telecommuting, distance learning or telemedicine.

Houle described two potential uses of federal funds for the internal use of the county government: allowing the leaders of each department to present various proposals that may fall under permitted uses of the funds, and identifying projects in the county capital improvement plan that could use these funds instead of the county. property tax dollars. Houle recommended setting aside $ 1.5 million for ministry use and left the capital improvements portion indefinite.

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Houle proposed the idea of ​​using dollars to expand mental health treatment services as an example, noting that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental illness would likely be an easy argument to make. to be worth.

“I think we can be very creative here to see how best to use these resources over the long term,” Houle said.

Depending on the number of items the commissioners deem appropriate for the use of American Rescue Plan Act dollars, the final property tax levy may be reduced from the preliminary levy approved in September. But Houle cautioned commissioners against reducing the allocation for the capital improvement plan, noting that it may be a better strategy to direct those levies towards the balance of the county’s capital improvement fund. for future use.

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Director of Administrative Services Deborah Erickson said there were more specific guidelines with this round of federal funding than with the dollars distributed with the CARES Act. This ultimately makes the use of funds more restrictive, but also takes away some of the guesswork associated with the first round. Houle noted that the US Treasury Department recently said spending decisions made under the current interim rules would be allowed, even if the final rules result in changes. An audit of the county’s spending with the CARES Act dollars found no issues, Houle said, giving him confidence in this round of funding.

The last item staff come up with for the relief program is to apply for a grant from the Family Services Collaborative of the Lakes Area. The collaboration was originally a joint effort between school districts, the federal government, and the county governments to tap into federal resources for various children’s social work programs.

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“While there are many local organizations that cater to a child’s specific needs, FSC’s collaborative model takes a holistic approach that more holistically improves the interconnected challenges a child or family faces,” says the organization’s website. “We offer group and individual training directly to children and families; help in crisis situations; as well as working closely with school staff to connect children and families with resources and strategies that help meet their needs. Our team is available all year round and all our services are free for young people and families.

But other federal resources are slowly drying up, Houle told commissioners, and the American Rescue Plan Act dollars provide an opportunity to give the organization independence from government.

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No maximum dollar amount was associated with this proposal, but the collaborative would be asked to offer a number that would ensure their independence.

“It would help make them sustainable in the long run, so we wouldn’t have to contribute,” Houle said.

CHELSEY PERKINS, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter at


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