Covid relief money
The $13M Question: County considers how to 6M now (and Torrington Ventures).
The Laurens County Council plans to meet as a Committee of the Whole, rather than with just the finance committee, to discuss how to spend $13 million in Biden Administration COVID-19 relief money.
The money must be spent, and accounted for, by Dec. 31, 2026. Even if the county gives the money to a third-party, that group also is held to the 2026 date and the county must account for all spending by that third-party.
Council was updated on the matter at its meeting last Tuesday.
Also, it was announced that a private group has purchase the former Anderson Floors (Shaw Lumber) plant, Torrington Road near Clinton, to invest about $5 million in making it suitable for an industrial prospect.
The county is taking action to give this company, Torrington Ventures, LLC, credits for infrastructure improvements.
County Finance Director Lisa Kirk guided the council through the American Rescue Plan Act appropriation - for Laurens County, it’s $13.1 million of a $1.9 trillion national plan. She suggested that an Administrator for the funds be named by the council; this would be a person to study the reporting documents and keep the reporting up to date.
Council Chairman Brown Patterson suggested referring the matter to the finance committee, but others on council persuaded him to make a Committee of the Whole (Council) referral.
The county is receiving e-mail instructions on spending and reporting to meet federal guidelines.
Patterson said this should be one-time spending to “benefit the whole county.”
Counties, and municipalities to a lesser degree, can spend the money to address COVID-19 expenses, to provide premium pay for essential workers, to address loss of revenue (greater than 4.1% over the last three years), and to improve water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
The broadband item came into play when it was realized on a national scale that many students could not study from home as schools were closed, because their internet services are inadequate especially in rural areas. School District 56 in Clinton-Joanna-Cross Hill responded by sending modern school buses to park at designated locations - these buses have WiFi connections.
The County partnered with the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce during the pandemic for a successful small business grants program.
It was designed to assist mom and pop businesses during the pandemic-related economic downturn. Many, still, are digging out from under two years of less-than-normal profits. That’s what led some on council to ask about giving the money, or part of the money, to a third-party.
Aug. 31 is the first reporting date on how money has been drawn-down and spent - the county has half its money in an interest-bearing account.
Then, there are four reports due and an Annual Report. The county can draw-down the second half of its money a year from the first draw (June 23). Cities will receive in the $3 million range, and communities like Waterloo will receive 6-figure sums, Patterson said.
In other business, the council spent about 2 hours in closed session, but took no action afterward, for discussions of a legal matter, employment related to the county administrator, and employment related to elections.
Council gave second reading approval to inducement agreements for Project Sleepy, a $40 million investment in an existing building within Laurens County. The company will be named on 3rd reading, July 27. Council also moved ahead on relocation of Wells Road, in the northern area industrial corridor.
On the Torrington Ventures, LLC matter, Laurens County Development Corporation President and CEO Jon Coleman said the former Anderson Hardwoods plant was bought for about $4 million, and investors plan about $1 million in upgrades. He said the tax credits the county is giving are about equal to state credits available under the abandoned buildings law. But the company will not have to navigate the state’s “red tape,” council was told. It is an unusual arrangement for the county, Coleman said, but is revenue-neutral and a benefit for the developers.
When the improvements are done, the investors will be in a position to market the building for well beyond the minimum $2.5 million that triggers tax incentives.
Coleman and County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks will bring the council some more investment numbers at the next meeting.
Anderson Hardwoods closed June 24, 2019, in Clinton, leaving 120 people unemployed.