A lot of cash, a number of want: Council will get an replace on federal rescue funds

The US $ 39 million bailout has risen to nearly $ 60 million, all of which must be spent by the end of 2024, county council finance committee members learned Tuesday.

And that’s an estimated $ 168 million in public transportation, housing, public health programs, and direct assistance to residents and businesses in the form of rental and utility benefits, unemployment, economic checks, coronavirus testing and response, and other forms of government assistance.

It’s a big change for a county that often struggles to keep up with its commitments, noted Puna Councilor Ashley Kierkiewicz.

“I see – that’s kind of money in a generation,” said Kierkiewicz. “We had to pinch pennies for so long and now there are tens of millions out there.”

Finance director Deanna Sako tried to dampen the council’s spending enthusiasm.

Spending, Sako said, has to fit into very specific categories to qualify for federal funds. The district has to submit its first quarterly report to the federal government next month.

The money can be used for public health and tackling negative economic effects, especially in underserved areas.

“We make sure that all of these things we want to do actually fit into the categories we have,” said Sako. “That was a challenge.”

For example, the county is not qualified to use federal stimulus money to make up for lost public sector revenue because the county’s general fund has not taken a hit from the rise in property values. This is bad news for the Department of Water Supply, which is trying to make up $ 2.9 million in lost revenue from unpaid water bills.

“The county as a whole is fine, but that doesn’t help the water supply ministry,” said Sako.

Much of the money will go to water, sewer and broadband infrastructure alongside childcare so that people can be kept busy, especially as the tourism sector recovers.

“We want to be deliberate and wise on this piece,” said Doug Adams, director of research and development, who is looking for the best way to connect critical broadband networks and create childcare facilities for children under five. There are 12,000 children in that age group on the island, but only 3,600 childcare places, he said.

“We’re looking for ways to get people back to work,” he said. “If you want to see economic development, we have to make sure that our children are cared for.”

Hilo Councilor Sue Lee Loy urged the administration to reach out to nonprofits on the island to put together larger funding and grant packages to help the community.

“Over time, we’ve given a little to a lot of people and not really seen the effects,” said Lee Loy. “The nonprofits in our community are doing so much and it would be helpful if we could align them with these goals.”