Madison County OKsBudget Including One-Time Federal COVID Relief

By Lee Roop

The Madison County Commission votes today on a budget plan for 2022 including federal funding for COVID relief.

The Madison County Commission today approved nearly $272 million in spending for the 2022 fiscal year that includes $36 million in federal COVID relief money shared across agencies, employees and quality-of-life operations.

As part of the package, full-time county employees will receive $5,000 split into two payments. Managers also got authorization to also give workers a 1.5 percent merit raise. The extra funds are to reward the workers for their hard work during the pandemic, Commission Chairman Dale Strong said, and to help retain them in today’s hot job market.

The division plan for the COVID relief funds from Washington was not unanimous. Commissioner Violet Edwards abstained after failing to get a second on her motion to delay the vote two weeks. Edwards told commissioners that other organizations wanted to apply and there was time for them to do so.

“The American Rescue Plan Act calls for a commitment to serve the hardest-hit communities and families, so I entered the budgeting process with a commitment to equitable distribution of funds,” Edwards said in a statement to after the meeting. “My abstention was not to devalue other projects, but I could not, in good faith, support a budget that was not inclusive of my district.”

The non-county operations that did receive relief funds today included:

– HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, $3 million

– U.S. Space & Rocket Center, $1 million

– Huntsville Botanical Garden, $1 million

– Wellstone mental health facility (under construction), $1 million

– Fantasy Playhouse, $500,000

– Singing River Trail, $250,000

– Madison County Nature Trail, $150,000 for bridge repairs and trail upgrades

– Ditto Landing, $150,000

– Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, $150,000 for workforce development

– Triana boat docks, $100,000 for boat launch upgrades

Expenditures from the COVID relief fund going directly to county operations and the amounts included:

– $4 million for law enforcement including 30 new vehicles, equipment and training for deputies and renovation of the 911 center

– $2.5 million for new tornado warning sirens in Madison County

– $2.3 million for new garbage trucks to add to the county’s fleet

– $2 million for rural fire protection

– $1.5 million for a drinking water initiative seeking partnerships with either Huntsville or Madison in assuring a steady supply of water for the fast-growing county. Both cities have water intake operations on the Tennessee River.

– $500,000 for the District Attorney’s Office

Strong said the county anticipates another $36 million in federal funds a year from today.

“We need to be prepared that the majority if not 100 percent of that in addition to reserve dollars will be needed to do what’s going to have to be done to this courthouse so we can take care of our requirements that are here,” Strong said.

The courthouse lost major public-facing offices including the license, probate and property tax offices to a new services center on north Memorial Parkway. Next comes renovation of the new courthouse to improve operations for judges and other services remaining downtown.