October 20, 2021

County mulls panel to allocate COVID relief

Cortland County Seal

Three months after the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was adopted, Cortland County knows it has $9 million to spend. On Tuesday, its legislators debated who gets to debate how to spend it.

The county Legislature’s Highway Committee proposed the county use $300,000 of the allocated funds to cover road rehabilitation projects that were postponed due to the COVID-19 shutdown last year. The finance and administration committee proposed using up to $75,000 to give county employees a bonus for comp time they could not take.

However, first, county legislators have to decide who gets to make those decisions, legislators said Tuesday at a meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee.

“We’ve got a lot of things that can be corrected — the highways, reimbursement for county employees that went above and beyond in the line of duty throughout COVID,” said committee Chairman George Wagner (R-Lapeer, Marathon). “But that’s the problem — we get handed $9.2 million, and the first thing people want is to spend it, but this is an opportunity to save.”

Both proposals were removed from the agenda Tuesday morning when the legislators said they needed a committee to select the spending priorities, and didn’t have one.

“No one or two people should say what we spend the money on,” Wagner said. “This should be a committee of seven or so people saying ‘Here’s what we’re presenting’ and then the other 10 tell us what needs to change.”

The Finance and Administration Committee has seven members.

However, Wagner said he opposes using the funding before the COVID pandemic is in the past.

“It’s just not timely — COVID is not over, and I know people think we’re over the hurdle, but I personally think we’re not done,” Wagner said.

“These projects are timely, we have a short window to do those road projects,” said Legislator Sandra Price (D-Harford, Virgil). “The highway superintendent picked out projects that were withdrawn last year because of finances that were too difficult. If we want to do those projects, we need to act on this pretty soon.”

Legislators Kelly Preston (U-Homer) and Doug Bentley (D-Cortland) withdrew their motion on the highway spending; Wagner withdrew the bonus proposal.

Wagner said he might appoint a subcommittee — perhaps all seven members of the Finance and Administration Committee — to consider a plan.