Local governments expect to receive millions in federal stimulus dollars

Charles Oliver, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·3 min read

Apr. 22—Officials with the Dalton, Whitfield County and Murray County governments say they expect to receive a total of about $39 million during the next two years from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress in March.

They are relying on numbers from organizations representing counties and cities, and those figures have not been confirmed by the federal government. The federal government has also not given local officials guidelines on how the money can be spent. The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) reports that the federal government is expected to release both the exact funding formula and guidelines on how the money can be spent by mid-May.

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen said the National Association of Counties told county officials Whitfield County is likely to receive about $20.3 million over two years. By comparison, Whitfield County received $3.5 million in 2020 from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, the stimulus bill signed by former President Donald Trump. Jensen said nearly all of that money was used to fund payroll for first responders.

City of Dalton officials expect to receive about $10.9 million over two years.

"That's what the GMA has told us," said Mayor David Pennington. "But no one from the government has verified that."

Dalton received $1.8 million in 2020 from the CARES Act.

"We spent the funds on public safety wages and benefits as well as hazard pay," said Chief Financial Officer Cindy Jackson.

Murray County Manager/Financial Officer Tommy Parker said Murray County expects to receive $7.8 million over two years. Murray County received a little more than $1.2 million from the CARES Act. It used about $400,000 each to buy the former Wells Fargo bank building and move the tax commissioner's office there, provide pay increases for county employees and hire three deputies, one detective and three firefighters.

According to data from the Georgia Municipal Association, Cohutta should receive about $200,700; Tunnel Hill, $286,700; and Varnell, $674,000.

In Murray County, Chatsworth is expected to receive $1.35 million and Eton $281,200.

Local officials say they haven't received any guidelines on how this money can be spent but are already starting to make plans.

"Commissioners are still considering the appropriate options for the investment of the funds from the new American Rescue Plan Act," said Jensen. "We welcome input from any citizen of Whitfield County on their ideas. The three key criteria should be: thoughtful, compassionate and generational. Thoughtful meaning well-planned and fiscally responsible. Compassionate, in order to provide benefits to as many citizens as possible, especially our seniors and families most impacted by the (COVID-19) pandemic. Finally, generational is important so the investment will provide our community with advantages well into the future."

Parker said Murray County officials have been discussing "infrastructure" needs but are waiting on official guidelines from the federal government before discussing specific projects.

Pennington said he has heard "basic outlines" of how the city can spend the money.

"It can be tourism, infrastructure, things like that," he said. "Tourism was one of the things hit hardest by COVID. We think it will fit in with some of the things we are already doing."

Pennington pointed to the planned improvements on Market Street — including wider sidewalks, on-street parking, decorative benches and lighting, and moving electric, telephone and cable lines underground — as well as an aquatics center planned for near the Dalton Mall as projects that might be funded from the stimulus money.

Cohutta Mayor Ron Shinnick, Tunnel Hill City Manager Blake Griffin and Varnell Mayor Tom Dickson said officials in those cities are waiting for more information before making any plans.

"I don't want to count our chickens before they hatch," said Shinnick. "I want to see how much we are getting and how we can spend it before making any plans."