The Morrison County Board of Commissioners discussed the possibility of setting up a new community grant fund during its regular meeting, Tuesday.
Funding for the program would come from federal American Recovery Plan (ARP) dollars. County Administrator Deb Gruber presented the Board with a draft of the application to receive funds from the program and asked for feedback as to how to move forward.
Morrison County has received the first half of the funding — which totals $6.48 million — with the second half slated to be distributed in 2022.
“Based upon our initial discussions that we’ve had, we’ve talked about the potential to run a community Morrison County Community Investment Grant program,” Gruber said.
The Board spent much of the conversation going over the timing of when grant awards would be decided upon and distributed. Gruber said, in the current proposal, she set an application period of Aug. 1 - Oct. 30. She said it is up to the Board if they want to award funding as it is received or wait until the end to decide.
The scope of eligibility for grants was also left intentionally broad. It ranges from non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses and local government entities.
“I certainly think it’s very easy and appropriate to have continued discussions,” Gruber said. “I think that’s probably a good idea during a budget meeting and regularly scheduled budget meetings to have those. But, ultimately, all grant awards will be coming to a Board meeting to approve formally.”
One idea that was floated was awarding grants continuously as they are reviewed throughout the process. Others suggested ongoing reviews, but waiting until the end before making any decisions.
Commissioner Randy Winscher said he was “on the fence” in terms of when grants will be awarded.
“Let’s say we get 50 applications in a week or two weeks, whatever, and 20-30 of them look great,” Winscher said. “OK, so we approved them, and all of a sudden, two weeks later, when we get 30 more, those are a little better than the ones that we already got.”
“I agree with that,” said Board Chair Mike Wilson “The only thing that I see here, if we waited until October, now we’re kind of through summer already. Some of these people may be able to use that money right away to get a project done, if we choose to do that.”
Gruber reminded the Board that they have through the end of 2024 to award the funding. Grant recipients would have until 2026 to spend whatever they receive.
Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski said, as long as the Board is reviewing applications on an ongoing basis, he was in agreement with Winscher to wait until Oct. 30 before making any award decisions.
“I don’t want to come here on Oct. 30 or 31 and have a stack of applications,” he said. “Otherwise I agree with that.”
The Board tentatively decided that it will review applications as they come in during the three-month period in which they are being accepted. Which applications are chosen for funding, and how much they’ll receive, will not be decided until the end of October or early November, when they have all been received and reviewed.
They will then have to be approved during an open, regular Board meeting.
Commissioner Mike LeMieur asked about the local government portion of funding eligibility. Hypothetically, he asked if Social Services Director Brad Vold were to ask for funding to work with local schools on mental health and drug abuse issues, how that process would work with him being a department head within the county.
In that situation, rather than Vold writing the application and going after the money, Gruber said she envisioned either the school or a local organization would lead the initiative. It would not be an internal, Morrison County sponsored initiative or program.
“I don’t anticipate internal directives or internal initiatives to go through this process, unless we direct otherwise,” Gruber said.
This granting process is different from what the city has already done through funding from the CARES Act or the Business Relief Program from the state. Funding does not have to be tied to pandemic-related loss. It can be, but it also could be aimed at economic investments, to help stimulate the local economy or assist with a particular initiative.
Gruber said one issue that had already been discussed was the need for child care in Morrison County. She used that as an example of an initiative that could, perhaps, receive funding through these grants.
“I think there are people out there that aren’t working because of child care — or lack of child care opportunities,” she said. “I think that anybody out there looking to make that investment, looking to really advance that opportunity, that this potentially could be a great, supportive way to make that happen.”
Winscher asked how word will get out on who is eligible and how to apply if the program is approved. Gruber said she anticipated taking a similar approach to what was done with grant programs in the past.
“... which is using our local marketing tools that we have,” she said. “Certainly using our partners that we have, that are regularly involved in these types of grant opportunities, places that are regularly communicating with different initiatives or businesses or organizations.”
Gruber also noted that the decision to not put funding limits on the grants was intentional. She said that would allow the Board flexibility on what it was comfortable allocating depending on the overall scope of the project or initiative.
“It’s early on in the process,” Gruber said. “Flexibility is what seemed most appropriate.”
County Board Briefs:
In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Approved a request from Sheriff Shawn Larsen to replace a full-time correctional officer position and a full-time deputy position;
• Approved one-day, temporary on-sale liquor licenses for the Lincoln Scandia Valley Lions for Scandia Valley Summerfest, slated for Aug. 7, at Scandia Valley Town Hall, and for the Randall Cushing Lions Club for the Cushing Car Show at Cushing Park, July 31;
• Approved a new lodging establishment license for the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls;
• Approved a lease agreement for the Land Services Department with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a waterless cleaning station at Fish Trap Lake;
• Approved the purchase of Winscribe Software, and dictation and transcription services, for the Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney’s Office and Social Services. The initial cost is $14,108 for the Sheriff’s Office, $6,412 for the County Attorney’s Office and $2,625 for Social Services;
• Approved a resolution to request approval from the DNR to sell 23 tax forfeited properties within Morrison County;
• Approved a request from 2 Tall Tavern in Cushing to hold a large assembly — a Wynonna Judd concert — on Aug. 6;
• Authorized the final payment to Sir Lines-A-Lot for the 2021 pavement marking project;
• Approved a request from Public Works Director Steve Backowski to replace the Public Works Environmental/Recreational Manager position, which is being vacated due to a retirement; and
• Approved payments of $13,541.45 to Contegrity Group, Inc., and $115,650.26 to Holden Electric for the Government Center remodel project. These were the final payments associated with the project.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 20, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.