How St. Clair County is spending $30 million in COVID-19 relief funds
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
St. Clair County officials have decided how they will spend the county’s remaining COVID-19 relief dollars totaling over $30 million.
They voted this week to fund projects that would help bring racing back to Belleville, increase security at the courthouse and more.
The federal government allotted St. Clair County more than $50 million to help it respond to and recover from the public health emergency. The money came from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Some of the money helped support COVID-19 vaccination efforts during the pandemic and compensated emergency management employees other than upper management, according to information the federal government required St. Clair County to document in a recovery plan.
The county also allocated $2.3 million of its COVID-19 relief dollars to buy the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center with the city of Belleville in 2022. They planned to continue to use the fairgrounds for tourism as well as emergency services if the community faced another public health emergency or a natural disaster.
Another $2.4 million of the county’s federal dollars paid for new outdoor warning sirens.
The St. Clair County Board voted at its meeting Tuesday night to fund these additional projects:
Eight projects get St. Clair County's remaining federal funding
- $14 million — Design, engineering and construction of capital improvements to the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said in an interview that the county plans to address the aging infrastructure at the fairgrounds, including rebuilding the Belle-Clair Speedway racetrack facility, which he described as unsafe in its current condition.
Kern said the $14 million will fund other improvements at the fairgrounds, including a new roof and HVAC system.
- $9.3 million — Design, engineering and construction of security improvements to the St. Clair County Courthouse.
When this project is completed, the courthouse doors on First Street will become the main entrance to the building rather than the doors facing Belleville Square, according to Kern.
He said the county will remove the exterior steps at the First Street entrance and set up a security checkpoint at ground level inside before visitors can enter the main building by elevator or stairs.
- $4.3 million — Design, engineering and construction of an animal control facility.
The county has been looking for a new home for St. Clair County Animal Control, which flooded during July’s record rainfall.
Officials initially thought about rebuilding at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds. But the county board voted Tuesday to purchase the property at 1123 Comwest Parkway from the Diocese of Belleville for about $700,000 to build a new facility. Kern said the purchase price was included in the $4.3 million in federal dollars that the board earmarked for animal control.
Board member John Coers, a Republican representing District 28 in O’Fallon, abstained from voting on the purchase. He works for the diocese as the director of facilities and risk management.
- $1.5 million — Demolition, remediation and disposal of the structures collectively known as Old Scott Schools.
- $1 million — Acquisition, remediation, retrofitting and improvements to the property formerly occupied and used as the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Belleville for public use purposes.
The county plans to move disaster equipment like generators to the old Army Reserve Center because the roads to access its current storage facility become impassable during heavy rain, according to Kern.
He said officials are also working with a possible tenant to share the space with the county.
- $1 million — Acquisition and improvement of properties for improved health outcomes, hospitality and recreation to be committed to public use. Kern said this money is for purchasing park land.
- $400,000 — Design, engineering and construction of water utility infrastructure to the Signal Hill area.
- $293,300 — Design, engineering and construction of roadway improvements to Adeline Court.
Eligible use for COVID-19 relief dollars
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has described the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds as “like a vaccine for the American economy.”
Earlier this year, she stressed that the federal government wants the funding to be customizable to the needs of each county. She spoke at the National Association of Counties 2023 Legislative Conference in February.
“Counties across the country vary in their needs,” she said. “... We knew it was important to provide direct and flexible aid to state and local governments.”
The U.S. Treasury Department has stated that the money should generally be used to accomplish the following:
- Fight the pandemic and support families and businesses struggling with public health and economic impacts.
- Maintain vital public services, even amid declines in revenue.
- Build a strong, resilient and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.
Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.