Federal Relief Package Includes $15.6M for County


County officials are still in the early stages of figuring out how to utilize an estimated $15.6 million set to funnel into Lewis County thanks to the American Rescue Plan.

The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package was signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month, and will provide about $7 billion to Washington state, over half of which is expected to stay at the state level while much of the rest will be distributed among local governments.

Now, Lewis County is largely waiting to see how the state spends its portion in order to avoid duplicating any spending.

Those state funds, according to county Budget Manager Becky Butler, could be used for large infrastructure projects such as water, sewer and broadband, while local funds could be saved for smaller, more local projects.

Lewis County will also partner with the Lewis Economic Development Council — now led by former state Rep. Richard DeBolt — to try to access the maximum amount of state dollars.

Calculations of how much federal money will benefit Lewis County will be further complicated by a $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs package now in the works in Congress. The legislation has the potential to pump even more federal dollars into statewide and local projects.

Since the county only has estimates regarding the American Rescue Plan, and is still waiting for guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it’s too soon to create the type of “COVID scorecard” that commissioner Gary Stamper has suggested.

The idea is to allow the public to easily track where American Rescue Plan funds are being used locally. The scorecard idea is similar to what commissioners discussed last year regarding their five-year strategic plan. Those scorecards have yet to be finalized.

On a city level, some local mayors are prepping for the arrival of funds by identifying projects that could use a financial boost.

“My take on it is at this point, any cities with projects that need help — and I know we need help with some — we need to get those projects fine-tuned,” said Centralia Mayor Sue Luond.

But in Centralia’s twin city, Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes expressed more frustration than resolve, arguing that wading through “doggone difficult and cumbersome” regulations around the federal funding is “above my paygrade.”

“What we hear on the political soundbites … is ‘we’ve got help for you, it’s coming,’” Dawes said. “But by the time it filters down, there’s so many doggone rules and regulations.”

Lewis County officials have been meeting each Wednesday to discuss federal coronavirus recovery funding. Their calendar and agenda can be found here: https://lewiscountywa.gov/offices/commissioners/agendas-calendar/2021/4/.