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Sauk County plans use of American Rescue Plan funds for broadband, facility improvements
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Sauk County plans use of American Rescue Plan funds for broadband, facility improvements

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Baraboo Mayor Rob Nelson reaches for a broken stage light during a July tour at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County with the Campus Commission, including Sauk County Board Vice Chairperson Brandon Lohr of rural Prairie du Sac.

Sauk County has begun allocating a portion of the more than $12.4 million provided through the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed in March.

County Administrator Brent Miller has been working to assign funds from one of the two equal payments of $6.2 million received by the county in late May. The other half of the funding will be given to the county next year.

Miller said the county has until the end of 2024 to allocate the funding to specific projects and until the end of 2026 to spend the money on those projects, which will likely not all be completed by the end of 2024.

The county plans to spend $1 million on broadband expansion, with a resolution for projects approved by county board supervisors during their July meeting. Chairperson Tim McCumber said the funding, limited in how it can be used, will help bolster access to broadband in rural areas, something that has been a focal point for years.

“It’s been a very slow process of getting broadband to rural communities,” McCumber said. “COVID really exposed it. Our school districts here in the county had to be very creative in how they could wire up some of our kids in those rural areas. These broadband dollars, grants and programs out there now are just going to speed up that process.”

The projects approved in July include work with LaValle Telephone Cooperative for cable to be installed in the northwest section of Sauk County, running as a connection to Highway 33 and west of Dutch Hollow Lake to County Highway G. More work planned in conjunction with Reedsburg Utility Commission includes expansion from West Baraboo through North Freedom and west to County Highway D, down to Leland and Denzer, including communities like Bluffview and Witwen.

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The utilities plan to procure grants from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for the work. Sauk County plans to pay roughly $700,000 of the more than $16.1 million in project costs, according to the resolution. Miller said the grants still need to be secured. However, the financial backing of a local government entity should improve the chances of the money being granted, McCumber said.

According to information released by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, $350 billion was released to state, local and tribal governments to invest in communities struck by the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by improving infrastructure, employment numbers and facilities related to a “public health crisis.”

McCumber said the projects are all tied to that intention. There is $600,000 allocated to the Sauk County Health Care Center for a high-efficiency particulate air filtration system. More than $2.4 million is dedicated to the replacement of radio systems and towers for the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office, first responders and the Highway Department.

The county also plans to partner with the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin to develop a training center with a $100,000 contribution. The center would focus on pre-apprenticeship programs in HVAC, plumbing, electrical, technical and building contractors fields for high school graduates, technical college students and jail inmates on work release to expand hiring and recruitment in those trades for “good paying jobs,” Miller said.

The county also plans to use $650,000 for its branding and marketing campaign as a way to boost tourism. Needed improvements to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County college arts building also fall under that category, with the county planning to contribute $400,000 of rescue funds to the anticipated $800,000 in capital upgrades in 2022.

One area of need is the Tri-County Airport, McCumber said. Since major flooding of the county in 2008, the airport experiences flooding that needs to be mitigated through the installation of a multi-mile drainage system to direct excess water to Bear Creek.

The county share is roughly 2.5% of a more than $10 million project, with Richland County paying another 2.5% and the rest coming from grants by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics. It was work planned either way, but the use of rescue plan funding at more than $434,000 means less money from the county budget, McCumber said, which is a positive aspect of all of the funding used for projects.

“I think if there’s any advantage to the taxpayers, it’s going to free up some dollars down the line when we may need them for something else,” McCumber said. “I’m excited about some of this stuff. … For us to be in the position to solve some of these things sooner rather than later is good.”

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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