HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - For the second straight county board meeting, commissioner J. Matthew Holt spoke about cautions with the American Rescue Plan funding, which could see as much as $24 million come to Hunterdon County.
The total, Holt said, is what the county was informed about as “earmarked by the federal government.”
The county said it is aware of potential for these funds to legally be allocated for paying COVID-19 pandemic-related expenses, covering lost revenues due to the pandemic, providing additional assistance to residents and small businesses and maintaining critical services and investments in water, sewer and broadband/internet infrastructure, among other possible uses.
Holt said April 6 that in the three weeks that passed since the last meeting (March 16), there’s been no further updates on rules and regulations governing the use of these funds, and when Hunterdon officials learn more, they plan to announce the details.
But Holt said, it is important to remember that these relief funds cannot be used to offset or reduce taxes.
“The National Association of Counties (NACo) has provided information that the American Rescue Plan Act does specifically state that the funds cannot be used for a direct reduction of taxes,” he said. “Apparently we here in Hunterdon County are not the only ones who’ve taken notice of the restriction. According to media reports, there are 21 state attorneys general who are considering legal action with the U.S. Treasury Department over the strings attached to the $350 billion included in the plan for state and local governments.”
In a Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners’ press release issued March 18, Holt said, “the U.S. Treasury Department will prepare rules regarding the use and accounting for the funds. The one thing that new law (American Rescue Plan Act) states the funds cannot be used for, unfortunately, is to reduce taxes. Which is an acknowledgement of who now runs Washington.”
Several county residents called the commissioners out on their emphasis pointed at the Biden Administration.
“I appreciate the report by commissioner Holt and the previous report, however, in the previous report, which is an official publication of Hunterdon County, there is an editorial remark concerning the prohibition on using the funds for tax deductions,” said Raritan Township resident Hope Cohen. “I do not appreciate such an editorial remark, ‘which is an acknowledgement of who now runs Washington,’ as that is an inappropriate remark to be included in any official publication. In fact, considering the extremely high COVID-19 activity level in Hunterdon County, it’s become quite obvious that the American Rescue Plan cash will have a lot of work to do for the real economic and COVID pandemic recovery, and not for tax deduction."
Susan Blubaugh, of Alexandria Township, agreed, and called the comment inappropriate.
Lebanon Township resident Steve Leftly commented that just as board deputy director John Lanza said some of the public comments at meetings early this year became like watching the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” this scenario of the county board’s commentaries is yet another politicized repeat. Leftly cautioned the board that the lead character in that film is forced to relive the same day over and over “until he finally understands what it is to be a good person.”
He called this a surprisingly accurate metaphor for “where we stand, with the elected officials of this county not expressing support that the election of President Joe Biden was free and fair.”
“Board director Soloway and others did not want to give a straight answer to a very simple question,” he added. “It is hard to imagine a more corrosive attack on our democracy than attempting to delegitimize the results of an election without any spec of evidence to back up those claims. It is the sixth of April in 2021, and Commissioner Soloway has yet to stand up and defend the Constitution as she swore the Oath of Office to uphold. I am protesting the fact that the county elected officials did not have the courage to stand up and say the election was free and fair.”
Regarding the money going to the county, Holt assured the audience listening to the county meeting that, “our taxpayers in Hunterdon can rest assured that the significant and detailed financial controls and systems of accountability that are in place for the county budget and tax dollars will also be implemented to ensure that every dime of these funds are managed and expended properly and appropriately.”
“Hunterdon County’s financial controls have been certified for four consecutive years by the independent auditor, who has issued an audit with no issues or recommendations, ‘a clean audit’ for each of those four consecutive years,” he added.
Holt added that the funds coming from the federal government to the county must be, and will be, “distributed fairly, transparently and with full accountability.”