Polk County needs public input on how to spend $95M in COVID relief

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POLK COUNTY, Iowa — Polk County will soon be pinpointing how to spend $95 million in COVID-19 recovery funds.

“Polk County believes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make strategic investments in the community and to address problems that lingered for decades,” said Angela Connolly, Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair.

Monday’s public forum inside the Iowa Events Center helped the community offer guidance to the Board of Supervisors on how to best use the allotment from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed into law last March. Polk County resident Frank Bowers said, “I was thinking $500 a month for a year for people who make less than $50,000 a year.”

From direct payments to food insecurity seen by Meals on Wheels. “Demand for our meals surged to 6,000 meals a week up from 4,000 per week pre-COVID,” said Amy Hutchins.

Improving the county environmentally was also a top concern for Carolyn. “Bio swells, green roofs, soil restoration, rain gardens, a prairie and more.”

To help keep ideas on track, the Board of Supervisors want suggestions to focus on affordable housing, economic well-being, water quality and mental health. A public commenter named Julie said, “Economic well-being isn’t just about getting a job. Mental health ties into that. Being able to contribute to the community and feeling valued.”

The $95 million must be assigned by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. In total, $35 million is already earmarked including $8 million between the Hilton hotel and Iowa Events Center managed facilities negatively impacted by the pandemic. County administrator John Norris said, “This is a one-time expenditure so we need things that make a lasting impact. It can’t be something for ongoing funding.”

The pandemic has brought communities, states and countries to their knees. County leaders hope the forums can help local residents back on their feet. Connolly said, “We want to look back and say because of this money we made real progress on big, big issues.”

Four more public forums are planned but dates have not been set. Online survey and public comments are also available online through Dec. 31, 2021. You can find them at www.polkcountyiowa.gov/arpa

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