Idaho cities

Idaho cities refuse federal coronavirus relief money

By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sixteen cities in Idaho have rejected a total of $700,000 in federal coronavirus rescue money, and a city that accepted $550,000 may have to return it if it doesn’t approve. to spend it.

It’s a small portion of the $5.74 billion Idaho received under the $1.9 trillion U.S. bailout bill President Joe Biden signed in 2021. But it may represent a significant amount for some cities in Idaho.

Many elected officials in the 16 small towns are volunteers or receive token payments. Some officials said they were confused about the authorized uses of the money or the conditions attached. Others said the cost of administration and tracking money outweighs the benefits. Some did not appear to have the staff or the expertise to assess federal guidelines on the use of the money. A mayor said the city refused because it didn’t want to declare a health emergency and impose a mask mandate, none of which was required.

The federal government’s guidelines came late, but they allow cities that receive less than $10 million to consider relief money a loss of revenue. This means that it can be used in the same way the city would spend the income it received from its general operations.

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Most of Idaho’s roughly 200 cities accepted the money, totaling about $232 million. Idaho’s nine largest cities received a total of $124 million directly from the US Treasury, with Boise topping the list with $37 million.

The remaining small towns received a total of $108 million distributed by the state. But the 16 cities have either rejected the money or failed to respond to letters, emails or phone calls from state officials.

Of the 16 towns that didn’t take the money, the town of Hansen in south-central Idaho, with a population of around 1,400, leaves the most on the table at around $276,000. . But Mayor Joe Ratto said he wanted to give it another look now that it’s clear the money could be used for infrastructure projects. The city has an annual budget of about $1 million, he said.

“We could still use it because we still have to do upgrades,” he said. “We can improve the water. We can upgrade the sewers. I believe we can improve playgrounds. We are currently working on these three elements to upgrade them. We’re just a small town trying to make things work.”

Alex Adams, administrator of Idaho’s Financial Management Division, said the $700,000 was in the state treasury and the state had asked US Treasury officials how to return it. It’s unclear whether the cities that declined their share could still get it if they changed their minds.

The small town of Hope, located on Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, was turned down about $21,000. The town has about 100 inhabitants.

“All the red tape, and we’re a small town,” Mayor Bob Breen said. “The added cost of just monitoring when the money is dispensed. It takes hours and hours. It’s real dollars being paid for it.

The northern Idaho town of Wardner, which has a population of 250, lost $38,000.

“My understanding is that you had to declare a mask mandate and a COVID emergency,” Mayor Joe Guardipee said. “We are a small community and we didn’t think it was necessary.”

Guardipee said it was not a political decision and the city accepted a $68,000 state grant to improve broadband from federal coronavirus relief funds.

Spirit Lake in the Idaho Panhandle accepted about $545,000, but the city council refused to spend it. Mayor Jeremy Cowperthwaite said outsiders who don’t live in the area are showing up at city council meetings to oppose the use of federal money that Cowperthwaite hopes to use for water and sewer projects. indispensable.

“As mayor, I would prefer to take the money and use it where Spirit Lake needs it,” he said. “That would be the fiscally responsible way to use it, in my opinion.”

The city has an annual budget of approximately $6.75 million. He needs a new well to meet the water demand and two more to meet the expected growth. It also needs to purchase land to expand its wastewater treatment capacity.

Island Park, a town of about 300 people in the resort area of ​​eastern Idaho not far from Yellowstone National Park, fell about $57,000,

“We asked the attorney to look into things, and there was nothing we could do about it,” City Clerk Reeca Marotz said.

She said the city doesn’t have a public works department because Fremont County handles sewers and all the water comes from private wells.

Other towns that declined financial assistance include Acequia ($28,608), Clayton ($1,721), Drummond ($3,442), Hamer ($22,370), Huetter ($24,091), Irwin ($53,129 $), Onaway ($40,438), Parker ($62,593), Placerville ($12,260), Reubens ($13,766), Swan Valley ($52,699), and Warm River ($645).

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