Coronavirus recovery funds result in nearly $2 million in county road construction

Published 12:17 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2022

CASS COUNTY — As countless people traveled from across the country to see the stars at Lawless Park this summer, they were treated to smooth streets, rather than rocky roads.

This project, completed by the Cass County Road Commission, was one of many made possible this summer in part due to a collaboration with Cass County commissioners and administration.

The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, a part of the American Rescue Plan (ARPA), was designed to aid the public sector in recuperating revenue lost and over expenditures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the road commission is a county partner that operates separately from the county government, county leaders recognized the impact of the pandemic on the county’s roads and worked with the agency to secure funds.

“The county actually asked us to get them a number,” said Bob Thompson, director of the Cass County Road Commission. “I can tell you from all my peers that I interact with around the state, that did not happen in any other county but Cass, where the road commission was asked for a number.”

The Cass County Road Commission is responsible for the reconstruction and maintenance of primary roads along with maintenance of local roads. These projects are primarily funded by fuel tax and vehicle registrations, both of which were impacted greatly as residents were forced to stay home throughout the pandemic.

In total, Thompson determined the road commission lost $991,493 and was able to complete $991,493 in projects because the county made up the lost revenue.

“The biggest part of [the road commission’s] operating budget comes from revenue shares,” said Ryan Laylin, Cass County Commissioner District 1. “That takes out certain projects that they had in mind and had planned. If they don’t have the money to do it, they can’t complete those projects.”

Cass County received a total of $10,059,018.00 in funds under the CSLFRF Program, and created an ad hoc committee to provide recommendations for how the funds would be allocated.

On February 17, county commissioners approved Resolution 39-22, allocating $991,493 of the county’s ARPA dollars to the road commission. Additionally, commissioners approved Resolution 40-22, which created a program assisting townships in repairing local roads.

“The county wanted to help the townships leverage their ARPA dollars, and so they put in place a $500,000 matching grant,” Thompson said.

Thompson broke down the $500,000 based on township mileage, gave each township board a dollar amount to match, and the townships determined which projects could be completed. The road commission matches township dollars on all township projects up to a capped amount, meaning that the total investment in this project exceeded $1 million. County leaders say the project is a testament to the partnership between the county and its partners.

“We’ve got a great working partnership with the road commission,” Laylin said. “There have been some instances where the county was going to spend a significant amount of money on a project, and the road commission helped us save money.”

Thompson agreed wholeheartedly.

“The relationship that the road commission has with the county administration and commissioners is one that is allowing us to do a lot of things collectively that are not done in a lot of other counties, and I’m really proud of that,” he said. “I just think it has numerous benefits to our community, to our public, and to the motoring public. … Let your imagination think about the opportunities that can be created when two government agencies work well together. The limits are a matter of what your imagination can let you think of.”