Millions to flow into Malheur County in unexpected boost for local governments

VALE – Millions of unexpected dollars will pour into Malheur County this spring as a result of the federal American Recovery Plan. 

Under the new federal stimulus, the county is projected to receive a single payment of $5,929,057, and various cities within the county will receive massive two-part payments from the state, all of which need to be spent by 2024. 

Ontario, the county’s largest city, is expected to receive $2,240,950, significantly more than the $337,611 it received last year in coronavirus funding. 

According to the League of Oregon Cities, cities will also be given more flexibility in how to spend the money, though they still can’t use it to reduce taxes or pay pension costs. Suggested uses for stimulus funds include Covid response, premium pay for essential government employees, essential government services, and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. 

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said how to spend stimulus money had been raised in the city’s recent budget hearings. 

“One eligible use that stands out is extending utilities,” he said. “We’re working on some engineering projects to extend water and sewer to some strategic places in the city to attract businesses.”

Brown said one project is south of town, the other southeast of town. Both are “green field sites,” meaning this would be the first time they’ve been industrially developed. 

Documents provided by Kari Ott, finance director for Ontario, show that the biggest expenditures from last year’s Covid relief package were help for the nonprofit Community in Action, moving more city services online, and police and fire wages. 

Jordan Valley, population 147, will also be receiving aid – an estimated $36,079. 

City Recorder Anne Stephens was surprised to hear the news. 

“It’s not that we couldn’t use it,” she said. “It’s hard to get any more funding in the areas that we actually need it. if you want to update your sewer or your water system, there are grants out there you can get for that, but it’s hard to get a grant for your general fund which is where we need more money.”

Since the stimulus money is direct aid, Jordan Valley officials will be able to allocate funds largely where and how they please, just as Stephens hoped. She said that while there is not a plan in place yet, she hoped the Jordan Valley City Council would set aside some cash for repairs to the water tank. 

Adrian City Recorder Shawn Snyder was likewise surprised to hear that her city is expected to receive $35,263 from the federal government, but declined to comment further until the city council has a chance to consider the development.

Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret said he felt similarly. The city is projected to get $649,211. 

“I think that we have to take a step back for several reasons,” he wrote in an email. “One, we do not have the money in hand yet. Two, the parameters of how you can use the money are very vague at this time. Three, within our city, the city council, department heads and myself weigh in on these matters and have not discussed them at this time. Four, with the large amount of money, time will be a factor because we want to make sure we are using the funds in the best manner for the city and its citizens.”

Vale will also be receiving stimulus funds in the projected amount of $370,570. Interim City Manager Katy Lamb said that she couldn’t yet comment on how the money would be spent, as she was still researching the matter. 

And at the county level, Judge Dan Joyce, who chairs the three-person Malheur County Court, also said that it was too soon to speculate about possible uses for the $5,929,057 the county will receive.

“We haven’t had any rules on how the money could be spent,” Joyce said. “We’re kind of in limbo there.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.


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