JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Local governments and school systems likely won’t struggle to find worthy targets for the nearly $300 million in federal stimulus money headed to Northeast Tennessee. State Comptroller of the Treasury Jason Mumpower just wants to ensure leaders in his native “Upper East Tennessee” are smart about it.
“It’s one time money, it’s only coming once,” Mumpower said of the funds, which exceed $30 million in the case of Sullivan County’s government alone. That county’s schools will get another $20.6 million.
“Take time, think about it, be strategic in how you plan to spend this money — do not let this money burn a hole in your pocket … Do the most good that you can for the greatest number of people with this opportunity.”
Mumpower walked budget directors, elected officials and others through the five primary categories eligible for spending at East Tennessee State University’s Mary B. Martin Center. He covered timelines, drawdown rules and a host of other details pertaining to the $1.9 trillion relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law March 11.
The plan will funnel $2.2 billion into Tennessee counties and cities and an equivalent amount to school systems.
Roughly $280 million of that is coming to the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee, or as the Bristol native Mumpower continually called the area using the traditional moniker, “Upper East Tennessee.”
Broadly speaking, local governments can use the funds in five main areas, including:
- Support public health expenditures
- Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency
- Replace lost public sector revenue
- Provide premium pay to essential workers
- Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure
Schools must use at least a fifth of their money to address “learning loss,” Mumpower said. The remainder is relatively flexible, but he referred education officials to several priority focus areas outlined by Gov. Bill Lee.
Mumpower made no bones about his opinion regarding use of the local government money.
“If you asked me to identify where your greatest financial peril lies I would tell you seven days a week it lies underground in our utilities,” Mumpower said.
He suggested governments look long and hard at water needs, which can include new service and rehabilitation or expansion of existing.
“Every community in Upper East Tennessee has pipes in the ground that are 40, 50, 60, 70 years old,” Mumpower told News Channel 11 prior to the presentation.
“What a blessing to be able to use some of this federal money to enhance our water and sewer systems across the hills of Upper East Tennessee.”
Governments will have until the end of 2024 to obligate their funds and another two years to get them completely spent. Mumpower said they should make haste slowly and be highly transparent with the public about what they’re spending, where.
“By staying in compliance with the rules they’re going to be able to spend the money in a variety of ways to benefit the people of Upper East Tennessee,” he said.