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County Commission Communications
A Periodic Column Written by Ed Douglas, Presiding Commissioner

May 8, 2021

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law. The $1.9 trillion package is intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the public health and economic impact. As part of the $1.9 trillion package, $362 billion aid goes to state and local governments, and $65.1 billion is provided in direct aid to counties. Livingston County is to receive $2,953,183. The City of Chillicothe is to receive $1,787,541. It is my understanding that the Chillicothe RII Schools will receive over $3,500,000. We expect to receive half of the funds in the month of May and the other half in one year. Unlike the Cares Act of 2020 which had criteria as to how the funds could be spent, these funds at this point do not appear to have many, if any, restrictions. Additionally, the funds going to the county do not have to be spent completely until the end of 2024.

Based on very little restrictions and a 2024-time frame to spend the funds, our Commission wants to be deliberate in considering the best way to spend these funds. One need that we have discussed in some detail, that we believe is significant, is the need to improve county bridges. We have 120 bridges in our county that are over 20 feet in length and probably close to 100 that are under 20 feet in length. Every two years MoDOT inspects the 20' and longer bridges and gives us a condition report. We currently have about 45 bridges that have some varying degrees of deficiencies. We have been able to build about one new bridge a year using a federal program known as BRO. In this program, the government allocates funds to us to use in building new bridges along with a 20% match from the county. The funds provided by the federal government allow us to build about one new bridge a year. The 20% match can be paid in cash by the county, or what is called "soft match" (which means if we have built a bridge on our own, we can use the cost of that bridge as our 20%). In other words, when we build a bridge on our own, we have about five years of soft match available. Currently, we only have about two years of soft match credit available; and, therefore, with some of the funds from the "Rescue" plan taking pressure off other areas of our budget, this may allow us to build a new bridge out of a separate county fund account. A new bridge most likely would cost $400,000 and would be contracted to be built in 2022.

Additionally, we have contracted with the engineering firm we normally use to build bridges to do two things for us by this fall. First, they will inspect and evaluate all the deficiencies of the 45 bridges that are over 20 feet in length. We have asked him to give us recommendations on how we can improve and extend the life of these bridges cost-effectively. It is possible we could replace some pilings or rebuild back walls or other improvements that could significantly improve the condition of these bridges without a total rebuild which would not possible financially. Secondly, we have asked him to inspect and evaluate the estimated 100 or so bridges that are under 20 feet. As I mentioned, these bridges are not inspected by MoDOT because based on their length they are not on MoDOT's inventory. Our bridge crew does keep track of these bridges on an informal basis, but we felt this was the time to do a formal evaluation and ask our engineer to recommend to us what improvements can be made cost-efficiently. In many cases, when these smaller bridges need replacing (depending on the water flow), they can be replaced with a tube or a culvert which is much less expensive than building a bridge.

We hope to have these recommendations by this fall which will give us an idea what can be done and at what cost. Although it is premature to speculate on the cost of these projects, it obviously would be great if we could make necessary improvements on our bridges and still have significant funds for other things. If money is left over, it would be ideal to be able to consider a major project or possibly several major projects that our community has always wanted to consider but were not financially possible. Maybe in conjunction with some of our funds and some of the city funds and possibly even funds from local foundations, we could leverage our funds in a way that allows some needed improvements to be made or projects to be built.

In the mean time, I am trying to visit with as many community leaders as I can to get ideas. We have time; and we should definitely take the appropriate time to evaluate the best possible uses.

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