Local Officials Gather to Discuss Combining Forces to Address Needs Ahead of Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act

By Echo Menges, NEMOnews Media Group

Edina, Missouri – Friday, April 2, 2021 – State Senator Cindy O’Laughlin (R-Dist. 18) hosted a meeting at Edina’s Knox County Community Center to bring local government officials together and begin the processes of thinking of ways to best use millions of dollars being distributed through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) beginning next month.

County and city officials from most of the counties in Northeast Missouri attended in-person or online. The nearly two-hour meeting featured a lineup of speakers specializing in regional development pointing out some of the most challenging issues NEMO communities are facing. The top topics of discussion were the need for better and faster internet service, the need for housing, the lack of child care, needed water and sewer system improvements and workforce development.

“I believe that we have one of the best areas in the country to grow up in, to be educated in, to find ways to earn a living for our families, but I also think that we have some kind of big challenges,” said Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin. “This American Rescue Plan is not something I would have done, but it is going to happen.”

From the day the 1.9 trillion dollar plan was signed by President Joe Biden, March 11, a 60-day countdown began for the federal government to release the first half of funding earmarked for local communities. The second half will be released 12-months later and local governments will have until the end of 2024 to use the funds.

For larger municipalities with populations of 50,000 people or more and counties, the federal government will send the money directly to the county or municipality. For smaller municipalities with populations under 50,000 people, the money will be sent to and released by the state.

Rural communities should expect to see the first influx of funding in June, 30 days after larger cities and counties are funded.

“Obviously we don’t know what the funds are going to pay for and what they’re not going to pay for until more guidance comes out,” said Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Director Derek Webber.

Without clear concise guidelines from federal level, local officials were urged to take their time, have patience, lean into transparency, collect feedback from their home communities and wait for more guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury before committing funds to areas with vague guidelines. Economic developers also urged county officials to look into supplementing funds to rural communities with water and wastewater infrastructure needs whose allotment falls short of costly water and sewer projects.

“This is so we can get together as counties and cities and try to prioritize these needs and possibly work together to solve some of the bigger issues,” said Webber.

Hannibal and Kirksville Economic Development Directors Corey Mahaffey and Carolyn Crisman gave short presentations along with representatives from the Green Hills Regional Planning Commission and the Mark Twain Regional Council of Government.

State legislators Rep. Greg Sharp (Dist. 4) and Rep. Danny Busick (Dist. 3) were also on hand to encourage cooperation to tackle the bigger challenges throughout the region.

Before the meeting concluded, local representatives gave a brief synopsis of local challenges echoing universal needs rural communities are facing pinpointed earlier by economic development officials.

“I thought if we brought everyone together, that we might come up with some new fresh ideas. I think people, when they hear about having some additional money come in, their first thought goes to what do we currently have that we need to catch up on. And, that is important, but we need to look at something that can be a good long-term investment. I’m hoping that just being together makes people think a little bit outside of the box,” said Sen. O’Laughlin.

This meeting was live streamed on the NEMOnews Facebook page. The video is available to the public online.