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Spending under development

County deliberates use of pandemic funds

Submitted Photo An aged, former apartment building in Kenmare, shown in this photo by Ward County Commissioner Jim Rostad, fell into the county’s hands and the decision regarding what to do with it could require funding.

The decision regarding how to spend $13.2 million in federal pandemic dollars still hangs in the air for Ward County.

The county received the American Rescue Plan Act money to respond to revenue shortfalls created during the COVID-19 pandemic and to address critical infrastructure. It can use some of the money to assist cities and townships with their infrastructure, and several political subdivisions are anxious to apply.

Ward County Commissioner Shelly Weppler said a county committee looking into potential internal uses for the federal dollars hopes to bring ideas to the county commission at its meeting Feb. 1.

“We are putting together a plan for the full $13 million. I will tell you that the plan includes things outside the box,” she said.

Commission Chairman Jim Rostad stressed again the needs of political subdivisions and also provided information on the deteriorating Olson Apartments building in Kenmare, which came to the county in the past year for back taxes.

“This building is a liability for Ward County,” he said. “It’s a hazard.”

Rostad said the building was abandoned by its Canadian owner, and efforts to sell it have not been successful. Having toured the building recently, he said, there is no salvage value to the structure, which should be condemned. One use of federal funds would be to demolish it.

Information provided by The Kenmare News dates the building to 1904. It was used as a department store until converted to apartments around 1950. It last housed tenants during the recent oil boom despite being in poor condition then, and it has been vacant for nearly 10 years.

Weppler said the ARPA committee will look at the Kenmare building in developing spending recommendations for the commission. She explained once the committee reports to the commission on the county’s internal needs, the commission can reach out to communities to hear their requests.

Rostad voiced concern about the list of items county departments are compiling.

“I think we all need to step back and really prioritize what the needs are – not ‘Well, we have $13.4 million so we’re going to put in for everything we want.’ I would invite you to step back, bring forth a different list again, but keep your wish list should the money still be there after we get a lot of these needs taken care of,” he said.

Because some money could go to towns and townships without expertise or staffing to manage federal dollars, the county advertised for a grant manager to oversee the spending of the $13.2 million and ensure compliance with federal rules. It also advertised for help in seeking out other grants. CliftonLarsonAllen of Minneapolis was the only firm to submit a proposal and it did not include help in seeking out other grants.

The county’s personnel committee, consisting of Weppler and John Fjeldahl, met Tuesday and discussed the proposal but planned to send it to the commission without recommendation. One option to hiring a grant manager is to look for a qualified individual willing to come on staff to perform the oversight.

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