Wadena County is just starting to dive into the ways to use their $1.69 million in CARES Act funding and hopes to use a portion to create a safer election process.

Wadena County Commissioners approved a resolution to apply for $18,927.29 of CARES Act funds for preparing polling sites during COVID-19. The county will have to use matching funds of $3,785, or 20 percent of the total cost from the election budget.

The plan is to spend these funds on plexiglass screens for polling places, a pen for each voter to take with them, postage for added absentee ballots being mailed out and additional staff for this election. The state will be providing masks for election judges, sanitation stations for at the door and sanitizing spray to use throughout the day in polling locations.

This cost was figured using a state formula, according to Wadena County auditor/treasurer Heather Olson.

The county will work with the municipalities within the county to determine a fair, equitable, and mutually agreeable allocation of the funds within the county and between municipalities, and if an agreement cannot be reached, the funds will be distributed pursuant to the Office of the Secretary of State identified default allocation, according to the resolution.

In other CARES Act conversations, the board heard from Olson that a CARES Act funding committee among county staff came to the conclusion to split the $1.7 million in funds in the following manner:

  • $500,000 for county citizens: For community needs to help with housing, food, financial, and child care issues resulting from COVID-19.

  • $500,000 for local business relief: For local business relief from distress caused by COVID-19 in the form of smaller grants to individual businesses.

  • $400,000 for county planning and costs: For county needs to mitigate issues dealing with COVID-19.

The remaining amount could be used as needed, if needed.

Hearing the plan, county board members concluded that they would like to have a clearer look at what the needs are before they split up the funds. Commissioner Jon Kangas wanted more specifics like what the needs were in the community before allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars. He wanted to make sure that those who received funds had actual needs and he hoped there would be a public record of those who are awarded.

Olson responded that those seeking funds must prove distress and she believed that all those awarded would be public information.

“It’s not a free checkbook for anyone,” Olson said.

Commissioner Bill Stearns said one main economic development group is not meeting until later in the week to discuss the uses of CARES Act funding in the county. He advocated to wait until after that group had met and offered recommendations before they make any decisions. Stearns again put out a call that all county staff should provide their input on uses of the funding.

Olson responded that since they were awarded the amount there has been little action about how to use it. She wanted to at least start setting some parameters and asked the board to share any of their thoughts. Olson noted she has already heard from Commissioner Jim Hofer, who served on a small CARES Act committee among county staff.

Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower chimed in that cities like Wadena are waiting to see what the county does before setting their own standards for the funds.

Commissioner Sheldon Monson was not ready to approve splitting the costs with so many unknowns. He moved to table the discussion for the next regular meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 4. All were in favor.