Jefferson County Lawmakers Hear Plans for First Half of $ 21 Million COVID Relief | Jefferson County


WATERTOWN – Jefferson County officials have had an idea of ​​what they can do with the first half of their $ 21.3 million US bailout money.

At Tuesday’s Finance and Rules Committee meeting, county lawmakers heard details of preliminary plans to use the first $ 10.4 million received by the county in early August.

The plans provided on Tuesday were detailed descriptions of potential uses, programs and projects. County administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said the plans presented on Tuesday were only initial proposals. After lawmakers discuss the proposals between themselves and their constituents, they’ll be back to vote on a plan in about a month.

The preliminary county plan uses funding in a variety of ways, both internally and externally.

Outside, $ 1 million will be donated to the Northern New York Community Foundation, to be divided among the various nonprofit organizations in the county.

According to Legislative President Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, the NNYCF will distribute this funding under the rules of the American Rescue Plan Act, making its own decisions about which projects and organizations to support.

Mr Gray said two projects were highlighted for the NNYCF before making any disbursements – the Jefferson County Hospice expansion project for its Gotham Street facilities and the Jefferson County Historical project. Society to install an elevator in his Washington Street home.

Many other organizations are potential recipients of the funding, and Mr Gray said the county chose to delegate nonprofit disbursements to the NNYCF because they already had the process and connections in place to facilitate transfers.

“The county has never done anything like this, we don’t have a process for it,” he said.

Mr Gray said the foundation would likely use part of the million dollars to cover its own administrative costs for handling the money, although that cost is currently undetermined.

The county’s largest bailout outflow, $ 5 million, will support the county’s two economic development agencies, the Jefferson County Local Development Corporation and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.

The LDC will use a party to establish a local food resilience initiative, which will provide grants to local farms and processors for equipment, modernization of existing facilities and the purchase of new proven technologies that will increase production and production capacity. food processing.

Broadly speaking, the LDC plans to establish a program that will invest money in new projects to expand the production of local products, to reduce the county’s dependence on national supply chains and establish a local production of fresh products.

LDC officials also have a plan to improve childcare services in the area and simultaneously address the low volume of workers available across the county.

All of Jefferson County is considered a “child care desert” by the Northern Child Care Coordinating Council, with only one child care place open for 6.7 children in the county.

David Zembiec, CEO of Jefferson County Economic Development, said on Tuesday that child care is a major barrier for people entering or re-entering the workforce as they are forced to choose between looking after their child or a check. payroll. The high costs of childcare, as well as the local lack of open spaces, were reported as the main reason for low enrollment in a JCEC survey conducted in 2020.

“We are asked all the time, ‘What does child care have to do with economic development? and we see that this is the big question of economic development, ”Zembiec said on Tuesday.

The LDC will use a portion of the funds to support the regulated Home Daycare Training Bootcamp that it established alongside a number of other regional agencies in May, as well as to establish a grant program for child care equipment. daycare, staff training, integration and term-retention.

Child care expenses were of particular concern to one lawmaker, Patrick R. Jareo, R-Ellisburg. Mr Jareo said he felt it was not appropriate for the government to get involved in what should be regulated by the free market, and expressed concern that existing child care centers would be at a disadvantage if the county LOC supported new companies entering the market.

“I don’t want to get into picking winners and losers,” he said.

After a debate among lawmakers, lawmaker Anthony J. Doldo, R-Watertown, asked Mr Zembiec to consult with existing child care providers to find out their needs as well, to which Mr Zembiec agreed.

Among other projects, the LOC also plans to fund a rental property deferred maintenance subsidy program, which would pay up to 80% of the cost of deferred maintenance projects by county landlords due to the COVID pandemic. -19 and the drop in rental income for many owners. seen.

The grant would pay for painting, roof repairs, replacement of siding and windows, among other repairs, but would not cover the costs of new construction.

The money will also be spent on a subsidy program to pay up to $ 20,000 per employer for workforce training programs to equip their workers with new skills and techniques.

IDA has two main projects that it hopes to tackle with its funding – extending the sewer service to Watertown Airport and the adjacent business park, and cleaning up PCBs found in the paving slabs. floor of 146 Arsenal St., the future site of a new construction Installation of the YMCA.

Mr Zembiec said the county-owned Watertown Airport and IDA-owned Business Park both need sewer service to maximize their investment and avoid debt. potential of $ 1.8 million once the sewer service is installed. by the town of Hounsfield.

The 146 Arsenal St. project has a potential cost of $ 1 million, to remove dangerous chemicals found in floor tiles from space.

In the vein of economic development, initial plans call for the county to pay approximately $ 210,000 to the Thousand Islands Tourism Council for lost wages at the Thousand Islands International Bridge and approximately $ 166,169 for reimbursement of lost tax revenue. , which come from hotel stays.

Internally, the original plan calls for Jefferson County to spend $ 2,400,000 in county refunds for lost revenue, as well as a series of planned county facility upgrades.

The costs of running the Jefferson County Public Health Department at full capacity to respond to the pandemic, as well as for personal protective equipment, costs generated in the public safety building, and reimbursements for staff who took COVID-19 related leave will all be clawed back. The Volunteer Transportation Center, which offered free rides to the county’s collaborative COVID-19 vaccination clinic, will also be reimbursed for its fees.

The county will undertake a large-scale cybersecurity and information technology audit, with a plan to secure the county’s computer systems and revamp the live streaming capabilities of the county legislature.

The Engineering and Administration building of the Roads Department will also be reconstructed, with an expected cost of approximately $ 500,000. The county stray dog ​​kennel will also be renovated to bring it up to modern standards.

Finally, Jefferson County’s initial funding plans call for $ 2 million to be spent on county roads. County Roads 46 and 47 repair projects will be fully funded and completed in a single construction season if possible, and other roads in the county’s five-year capital plan will be brought forward to advance the entire repair cycle. roads.

Mr Hagemann said the costs of almost all of the programs in Tuesday’s proposals are subject to change, unlike many expenses that the county legislature typically approves.

“It will truly be a living document,” he said.

As the rescue funds are spent by the different county agencies and departments that receive them, adjustments can be made and the funds can be reallocated to different uses. The plan could evolve in the coming weeks as lawmakers discuss the finer points with their constituents.

Mr Hagemann said the county administration would report regularly on how funds are used by all agencies involved once disbursed, and said a similar process will likely be in place for the $ 10.4 million. of remaining dollars to be disbursed by the federal government.

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