County to receive more than $9 million through Rescue Plan

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County officials late last week were anticipating almost any day gaining access to the first payment of millions of dollars the county is to receive through the federal relief and stimulus act that President Joe Biden signed in March.

County Clerk Robin Slack has been designated the county’s point official in dealing with the federal support funds, to include tracking expenses that qualify for payment.

Osage County is to receive, in total, more than $9 million ($9,108,185) under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The first payment is expected to be about half of that amount. The federal government will also be providing the county with guidelines about spending the money.

County officials have already held one meeting about the money, but the discussion was limited because the federal guidelines had not yet been provided. District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is chairman of the county board, said that further discussion would have to be postponed until the guidelines were available.

Slack and Treasurer Sally Hulse provided the commissioners with a proposal for the division of the first half of the county’s funds. Their proposal would, if enacted, direct most of the money to use by the county’s road maintenance operations and the sheriff’s office.

Specifically, the proposal called for $900,000 each for the road maintenance operations of District 1, District 2 and District 3, as well as $900,000 for the sheriff’s office. The proposal suggested smaller amounts -- $75,000 each – for the operations of core county government offices, including those of the court clerk, the assessor and the county clerk. Other county operations – the election board, senior citizens/nutrition, and tourism – were suggested to receive $50,000 each, and still other offices were suggested for $40,000 support amounts.

Additionally, the proposal called for setting aside $360,000 to cover possible county employee raises. There was some initial discussion of the subject of raises, but no clear agreement on how to handle that possibility.

In the same meeting, there was discussion of the cost of health insurance for county employees. The county pays employee insurance premiums, but individual employees must cover the cost of insuring their family members. Sheriff Eddie Virden advocated for looking at ways to make it less expensive for employees to cover their family members. Slack agreed with Virden about the importance of looking for better insurance options for employees.

American Rescue Plan Act funds must be spent by December 2024 or they revert to the U.S. Treasury. Receipt of payment of the second half of the county’s funding is anticipated to take place not later than one year after the first half of the money becomes available.