Henry County seeks suggestions from community on ARPA funds

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Henry County courthouse clock

The Henry County Finance Committee opened the courthouse doors and invited the interested community to bring suggestions on how to apply the $9.4 M in American Rescue Plan funds due to the County.  The first installment has been received and is in the bank.  

Kelli Parsons, Chairman of the Finance Committee explained that the County had drawn some guidelines on how they felt the monies should be spent.  The committee divided it into what they refer to as the Four Pillars.

  • Public Safety - qualifying projects would be the Regional Emergency Management project that will be going into the former Health Department building in Kewanee.  It will also be used as a training facility for other Emergency services outside the area.  Enhanced broadband, body cameras, riot gear,  and other equipment for law enforcement also comes under this pillar.
  • Mental Health - services for residents that currently are underserved.
  • Residents - home assistance or property tax relief
  • Business programs & grants - Monies to assist organizations or businesses that were excluded in any of the other Covid-related programs.  This could include Park Districts, Freedom House and the County Fair.  Special note was taken that further programs might be available to businesses under the ARPA guidelines, and would take precedence.  

An Ad Hoc Committee comprised of Board members and community volunteers is to be created to oversee the best methods of disbursing this money.  Interested parties can contact anyone on the County Board or Erin Knackstadt, County Administrator.

Matt Schnepple from the Henry County Office of Emergency Management spoke briefly about the $750,000 that was to be awarded from these funds to the department.  The OEM has agreed to purchase the former Health Department building in Kewanee to create a Regional Emergency Management office.  The County has an agreement with Stark County, and Kewanee is a logical location.  Additional agreements with other communities are anticipated. 

Referring to "the incident that won't end" Schnepple also talked about five clinic suites that could be turned into alternate housing to accommodate overnight training groups, first responders who may need to avoid taking possible Covid exposure home to their families, and people who might be temporarily homeless due to disasters. 

The Kewanee facility would also house equipment and supplies that are currently being housed at fire and police departments across the county. 

Cassandra Small with the Henry County Senior Center asked how their organization might get on the list. Parsons responded that they just need to reach out to anyone on the Committee.

Steve Martin with the Senior Center in Kewanee asked about an HVAC system in their building that is in need of replacement.  People volunteering with the Meals on Wheels program are working without air conditioning. 

Meals on Wheels has increased the number of people being served during the pandemic, from 164 per day to 272 per day.  Vehicles used to deliver the meals need work. Only 75% of expenses are reimbursable through State and Federal programs, and a $3 donation per meal is requested but not required. 

Allen Anderson of Galva spoke briefly about the state of Bishop Hill that normally would have the benefit of over 100,000 tourists a year, and has been seriously impacted and in need of relief.

Jamie Johnson of rural Coal Valley spoke about 90 acres of what is believed to be Native American burial mounds in that area, and wondered if there was a way that the purchase of this property might fit into the guidelines. County Administrator Erin Knackstadt stated that she thought the project would not qualify, stating that if the project didn't meet certain criteria, the ARPA money would need to be refunded to the government.