PRINCETON — Mercer County has already received half of its $11.4 million allocation from the American Jobs Plan.
“We got our first payment already,” said County Administrator Vicky Reed. “It is $5.7 million and it’s in a separate checking account. We have to keep that money separate.”
Reed said none of the money has been spent yet by the county commission.
The other half of the federal funding will be received next year.
Reed said counties receive the money earlier than cities and towns because they can apply directly to the U.S. Treasury Department while other municipalities must go through the state.
Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the county is taking its time on any decisions about where to spend the money, but water, sewer and especially broadband projects have topped the preliminary list. “At this point, we are being patient and will hopefully start the coordination process of prioritizing the funds to the highest need,” he said. “We have to be calculated and every dollar should be leveraged with other partnerships to avoid duplication.”
Puckett said efforts in spending for projects should be coordinated on a local and regional basis.
“What one county does impacts another,” he said. “Municipalities need to work with counties to solve true core needs.”
More money will also be available from other sources.
“With the other funds from the state and pending bipartisan infrastructure plan, we need to see how all things play out,” he said. “We have until the end of 2024 to allocate the monies and the end of 2026 to spend it. You will see progress soon and we will involve the public every step of the way.”
Puckett said partnerships are the key and these funds “will revolutionize how we prepare our communities for the next generation. Things we do in the next three years need to be felt positively into the next 30.”
Bluefield is now in the process of applying for its $4.1 million.
City Treasurer Kelly Davis told the city board on Tuesday the applications are completed, and part of the process is to declare an official designee to represent the city in signing off on everything.
The board agreed to declare Mayor Ron Martin as that designee and he will sign all the documents related to the American Jobs Plan.
Davis said the city will receive half of the money, just over $2 million, this year, and the remainder next year.
No decision has yet been made on how the money will be spent, but a previous discussion included the possibility of using at least some of it to handle a flooding issue in the city.
Bramwell Mayor Lou Stoker said the town is now going through the process of applying for its $140,000 allocation.
That money has already been earmarked to address a situation that has been ongoing for many years related to the two water dams that previously provided a water supply for the town, she said.
Although the town now gets is water from the Bluewell Public Service District, the dams have been used for recreation, including fishing, picnicking and other community activities.
At least part of the money from the rescue plan, $70,000 this year and $70,000 in 2022, will be used for an engineering study of dams to make sure they are safe and in compliance with state regulations.
“We have to fill out a lot of forms, which we are still doing,” she said of the application process for the money, adding that town council has already signed off on what is being done. “We still have some more forms do to.”
Stoker said all of this is being done working with the state auditor as well as with guidance from the state Municipal League.
“We are making sure everything is done right,” she said, and the project the money is earmarked for has been cleared by the state auditor. “We don’t want to have to repay it (if the money is not spent appropriately).”
Stoker said as part of the plan two engineers from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be in Bramwell for a public meeting on July 26 at 7 p.m. at town hall.
“They are going to review the process of upgrading the dams,” she said. “Everyone is invited.”
The money from the American Jobs Plan is a windfall for the town, she said. “We are so grateful for it. That is wonderful for a small town.”
The money for counties, cities and towns is from the $1.9 trillion American Jobs Plan which was passed earlier this year. Federal guidelines for how the money can be spent include infrastructure projects.
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