Dubuque County to solicit applications, input for $19 million in federal funding

The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors this week gave staff the go-ahead to solicit public input on how the nearly $19 million given to the county through the American Rescue Plan Act should be spent.

The first of those opportunities is an application process for community organizations to pitch project ideas. The second is a communitywide survey through which residents can share how they would prioritize how the federal funds are spent.

“Whatever we want to do as a board, this is trying to get a portal for public input, to give our stakeholders an opportunity to help guide us in this,” said Supervisor Ann McDonough.

The application for project proposals is designed not for the everyday Dubuque County resident, but for organizations, businesses or other entities with the capacity to present a detailed plan.

“Together, we must pursue the great American tradition of building back better after major crises,” reads the application’s opening page. “Proposals that will be considered for ARPA funds must address a public need that has been created or exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and meet usage and timing requirements of the ARPA legislation. Projects should be designed with a strategic public purpose that creates meaningful and long-lasting impact and must be focused on Dubuque County and be administered or located in Dubuque County.”

The American Rescue Plan Act, and the administrative rules that followed, allows funds to be used for many different areas of government service. But the county needs to make sure when approving a project.

“One of the things we need to be cognizant of as we start to receive applications is if they do follow the law,” said county Budget Director Stella Runde. “Because we could get into the situation where we have to pay back money (otherwise).”

The plan is for an online application portal to go live on Monday, July 26, on the county website. The supervisors agreed unanimously to push the deadline for these applications back from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 to give organizations more time.

The community survey also will be available on Monday on the county website.

Through it, residents are given the chance to allocate a hypothetical $100 among 10 broad eligible categories for use of ARPA funds, including workforce development, mental health, housing and broadband.

Runde said she hoped to receive as many as 10,000 submissions of the survey to get a good sample.

Supervisor Jay Wickham said that without contracting with a firm to promote the survey, that was overly optimistic.

“If we’re going to do this, I’d rather we do it right,” he said. “And without giving it real support, we’re going to get a couple hundred (responses).”

But McDonough and Supervisor Harley Pothoff did not support hiring a contractor to handle the survey.

The supervisors did not set a strict end date for the community survey but hope to consider the responses along with the external applications.