Smaller McLean County Communities Wait For $2.3M In COVID Relief Funds
McLean County cities and towns outside of Bloomington-Normal are waiting on millions of dollars in the last round of COVID relief funding.
Lexington Mayor Spencer Johansen chairs the McLean County Mayors Association. Speaking on WGLT's Sound Ideas, Johansen said Lexington is due to get $250,300, but the Pritzker administration hasn't said when smaller communities will get the money.
“It’s almost like you are waiting for a birthday card from your aunt and uncle and you know there is going to be a check in there, but you don’t know how much it is going to be, and you don’t want to complain because it’s money we didn’t have before,” Johansen said.
Seventeen municipalities in the county are due $2.35 million in American Rescue Plan funding. Eight of the municipalities (see chart below) are expected to receive more than $100,000.
Larger communities, including Bloomington and Normal, receive their ARP funding from the federal government. Bloomington is due to receive $13.4 million. Normal expects to get $10.9 million. McLean County government is due $33.3 million.
Illinois is one of 11 states that hasn't applied for the funding on behalf of communities with fewer than 50,000 residents. Johansen said he was been in conversation with the Illinois Municipal League to get a better idea of when the funding could become available.
“I don’t know why the governor’s office isn’t following through in getting the proper documentation into the federal government,” he said.
The governor's office said it plans to get the money to municipalities soon.
“We are a little over two weeks into the fiscal year that started July 1 and (the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) DCEO is working to get the program up and running and it will be ready to open soon,” Pritzker press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.
Abudayyeh noted 29 states have requested a 30-day extension “because they requested (funding) before their programs were ready to go.”
Johansen said Lexington plans to use the money to help businesses that endured financial challenges during the pandemic, attract new employers, provide infrastructure for a new post office and do road work.
Cities, towns and counties can use the funding to reimburse COVID-related expenses, replace lost tax revenue due to COVID and pay for waster, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Despite his frustrations over the delayed funding, Johansen said he is generally pleased with the state and federal governments’ response to the pandemic.
Lexington saw a 10% percent drop in sales tax revenue, but online sales that boosted the local use tax helped trim the shortfall.
Johansen said that's better than the worst-case scenarios the city prepared for.
“I didn’t know how long the shutdown was going to last and how it would affect us,” the ex-council member and former longtime police chief said. “It was the passion and determination that has made the community that we are.”
Johansen said Lexington's didn't lose any businesses during the pandemic. It also added a convenience store, restaurant and gift shop and will get a new coffeehouse and a brewery soon.
He said the relocation of the Lexington Post Office also opens up prime real estate for retail in the city of about 2,300 residents.
“Frankly, we are running out of space, so this will be a welcome addition to the properties we have (available),” said Johansen, adding the city gets 3-4 calls each month from prospective business owners looking for a building to move into.
Johansen said smaller municipalities had more flexibility to help its businesses because they have fewer of them than larger cities. He said he’s not aware of any job cuts in the smaller municipalities.