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WATSEKA — Iroquois County officials took the first steps Tuesday in deciding how to spend $5,258,593 in federal COVID relief money.

The American Rescue Plan Act Committee of the Iroquois County Board held a public hearing at the county board facility at 1001 E. Grant St., Watseka.

Twenty-six people signed in. Most were representing various government agencies such as municipalities, park districts and fire departments. All were trying to find out what projects might be eligible for public funds and how they might apply for them.

Committee chairman Paul Ducat told those assembled that they would have through 2023 to apply, then they would have to spend the money through 2026.

Ducat said the groups might apply more than once. They also might get only some of the funds they applied for. He said there would be an interview process where the government or agency would have the opportunity to explain their project. After a committee hearing, the final determination will eventually be made by the Iroquois County Board.

Jill Johnson, the county’s finance manager, went over the long list of eligible projects. The county plans to post the complete list on its website, iroquois.co.il.us.

Ducat made one point a couple of times — if you have received other COVID relief money, please exhaust those funds before seeking any additional money. Also, communities are encouraged to work together on projects.

Beyond that, there are a long list of projects that do qualify:

• Expenses related to COVID vaccination, testing and contact tracing; COVID prevention in nursing homes and jails; expenses and payroll related to fighting COVID; and mental health.

• Using funds to reverse “negative economic impacts” that had been caused by COVID, including food aid, rent aid, mortgage and utility payments; eviction prevention; job training and unemployment benefits; small businesses; nonprofits; and tourism and travel.

• Serving “disproportionately impacted communities” including aid to high-poverty schools; early learning funds; child care; foster care; affordable housing; the homeless; lead remediation; and intervening to prevent violence.

• Infrastructure, including storm water, wastewater, conserving water and drinking water, and improving broadband access.

But Johnson says, not every government project will qualify.

Ducat says his preference is to do projects that benefit “a majority of the people.”

“At the end of the day,” he said, “this is still our tax money and we should spend it the best way possible.”

One specific suggestion did come from Watseka attorney Dale Strough, who said the county should investigate whether it could install water and sewer lines on its own property and open that up for development. He also suggested solar panels of flat-roofed public buildings with an eye toward cutting down utility bills.

Other than Strough, there are relatively few questioners. Most wanted to know how the process would work.

Ducat said he was pleased with turnout. All who came were given a 15-page handout that included a grant application form.