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La Crosse County Board OKs using $90k to support community events impacted by pandemic

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Community events in La Crosse County that have felt the weight of the pandemic may qualify for some relief under a new grant program.

On Thursday, the La Crosse County Board approved reserving $90,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act to establish a grant program to support nonprofit community events that were negatively impacted by COVID-19.

This program would grant up to $10,000 per event, and organizations that apply would need to describe and quantify how the pandemic financially impacted their event and how the funds would support them.

The funding passed on a vote of 18-9 after much debate about the details, and an attempt to refer the program back to committee.

The resolution approving the funds was originally drafted to allocate the money directly to nine community events spanning across the county, as identified by supervisor David Hundt. But that was changed because staff found that pre-allocating the money to specific events violated some of the rules tied to ARPA spending, and that an application and review process would need to take place.

David Hundt

Hundt

Hundt was surprised by the changes, he said, though he was at the Executive Committee meeting where they were discussed and initially approved. But he was concerned his intention to support events throughout the entire county would be squashed.

“I think what you’ve changed, you’ve changed the whole meaning of what I’ve done,” Hundt said.

“I’m beginning to feel bad that I even brought this up,” Hundt joked, bringing laughter from the board after they had been debating the issue for about half an hour. “But my whole idea was to help communities out. And every community I’m talking about, every event I’m talking about were hurt by COVID.”

Some supervisors were concerned that the definition of a community event was too vague, though others felt confident that would be ironed out as the guidelines of the grant program are developed now that the funds are approved.

An amendment was passed to specify that the funds go only to nonprofit community events, though some felt that left out for-profit organizations and small businesses that were also hurt by the pandemic. Others thought they had access to other relief funds, though.

Supporting community events isn’t an area the county had previously identified as a priority for its ARPA funds, but it’s relief that has been persistently brought up by some county board members over the last year.

The county received $22.89 million in ARPA funds, and has already identified eight spending paths for most of the funds that has included housing, sustainability, child care and skilled trades training.

Jane Klekamp

Jane Klekamp

The $90,000 would come from any unspent ARPA funds, according to the resolution, and county officials said the funds would come from another project area that has already been set aside but not spent.

“I think because most of the funds have been reserved but not dedicated, at some point we would have to determine what other area that the money was reserved for where we would take it out,” said interim county administrator Jane Klekamp.

“We said all along we had to be flexible, and if this is something that is prioritized then we would figure that out as we move along,” she said.

Any organization that applies for the grant will have to provide financial information, including any other aid or federal assistance they received and how their event contributes to the local economy.

The county’s Executive Committee will provide oversight in creating the guidelines for the grant program.

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