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Federal aid has helped local governments through financial impacts of COVID-19

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County IT Director: Steve Mousseau adjusts a digital camera in the Howard Male Conference Room on Friday. The county used COVID-19 federal stimulus money to upgrade its technology so it can better stream meetings to the public. Before the upgrades, online meetings often suffered from poor picture and audio quality.

ALPENA — In Northeast Michigan alone, the federal government distributed a combined $37.5 million to counties, cities, and townships to help them fight through the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alpena County has received the most money locally, getting about $6.1 million through four different rounds of federal funding. The county also received an additional $18 million for improvements and investment into the Alpena County Regional Airport.

Alpena County received a Community Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for $405,702 to assist local nonprofit groups, purchase essential pandemic needs, such as personal protection equipment at county facilities, and to equip small storage units for coronavirus testing and vaccine clinics.

Bob Adrian, Alpena County Board of Commissioners chairman, said the government grants helped to cover some labor expenses for several months, which in turn helped county budgets and allowed the county to use the money for other county business.

He said the money helped upgrade the county’s technology, including in the local courts.

Without the funds, the county would have had to pay for the upgrades — which the county needed to provide online meetings and other forms of transparency — from its own pocket, Adrian said.

“It all has made a big difference to our budget,” Adrian said. “There were obviously a lot of things that went well for us in getting all this funding.”

The county is currently considering how to spend about $5.5 million of its stimulus. It received that amount received in the last round of federal stimulus and hopes to have a list of projects in September.

Alpena used a portion of its $1,184,671 in relief funds to help support police, fire, and other departments.

Councilwoman Cindy Johnson said the stimulus money covered the cost of personal protection gear and other things that helped to protect staff, and other needs during the ongoing pandemic.

“We would have had to pay for all the PPE that was needed in every department, all of the cleaning supplies, and make sure our heroes were financially taken care of out of our fund balance,” she said. “The money we have received, and will receive, has been very helpful there is no doubt about that.”

The city’s fund balance is its savings and aside from its general fund budget.

Rogers City Mayor Scott McLennan said the federal funding, which equates to $343,942, helped the city navigate financial uncertainty that came along with the coronavirus.

He said the money from Washington helped prevent some local governments from dipping into their savings to pay the associated costs of the pandemic.

“We needed to use this wisely, and we have,” McLennan said. “We need to understand that these types of things can and do happen and communities need to be prepared for them. Rogers City would have weathered the cost of the pandemic, but it would have made our budget much tighter, so the funds did come in handy.”

Albert Township in Montmorency County utilized $24,000 to provide assistance for first responders, and $39,750 from the Paycheck Protection Program to help keep employees working.

The township applied for as much money as it was eligible for, and intended to do as much good with it as possible.

“These people were working under very difficult and stressful circumstances, and we wanted to do a little extra special for them,” Supervisor Michael Runyan said. “We are always looking for ways of taking care of people, and the grants helped us do that.”

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