SHEBOYGAN – Nearly one in five households in Sheboygan County have no internet, according to a 2021 study.
Hundreds of families are struggling to find child care, and employers are struggling to find workers, with about 3,000 jobs available in the county.
Those are just a few problems county officials aim to address with federal COVID-19 recovery funds.
Sheboygan County received $22.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress last spring.
Next week, the county board will consider a resolution to allocate $11.1 million of the $15.5 million remaining funds to various projects, based on recommendations from six community task forces.
ARPA funds, distributed to state, local and tribal governments across the country, can be used to do any of the following:
- Address negative economic impacts of the pandemic;
- Support public health expenses;
- Improve water, sewer and broadband infrastructure;
- Increase pay for essential workers; and
- Replace governments’ revenue loss during the pandemic.
The county has already used about $7 million of the ARPA funds, mostly for better pay and benefits to recruit and retain staff at Rocky Knoll Health Care Center and in the Sheriff’s Department.
More than 100 people, representing more than 65 local organizations, volunteered time to participate on six task forces to recommend how the remaining funds should be spent, Sheboygan County Administrator Adam Payne said.
Under the proposed resolution, every task force would receive funding.
“The key is, all of these projects are important,” Payne said. “Hopefully they are going to make a real impact in the community.”
Here are the recommended projects, in the order prioritized by the county board executive committee.
1. Match grant funds for broadband expansion: $2 million
A study last year conducted by New North, Inc., to assess gaps in broadband coverage in Sheboygan found 17% of households in the county have no internet, and the vast majority of survey respondents (86%) wanted faster and more reliable internet.
The proposed resolution would provide $2 million for the county to match funds for broadband expansion grant applications from internet service providers.
2. Introduce neighborhood social workers and police co-responders: $1.6 million
The pandemic negatively impacted behavioral health in Sheboygan County, the Behavioral Health and Crisis Response Taskforce co-chairmen Kate Baer and Matt Strittmater wrote.
Mental Health America in Sheboygan County’s online mental health screenings increased from about 380 people in 2019 to more than 1,400 in 2021.
Recently, about 40% of calls to the police department deal with mental health or drug abuse, Sheboygan Police Chief Christopher Domagalski estimated.
“It’s become such a drain on our resources that we can’t deliver some of the services we normally would,” Domagalski said.
Police also want to reduce the number of situations in which they essentially force people into care in an emergency department — which have been increasing, he said.
“What we would like to do is intervene before people get to a crisis point,” he said.
The proposed resolution would provide $1,050,000 to embed social workers in city neighborhoods with the most significant challenges, such as child protection system referrals, to build resiliency and reduce the likelihood of residents needing emergency services, according to the task force report.
The proposed resolution would also provide about $540,000 for a Sheboygan police and crisis co-response program.
Co-responder programs are becoming pretty common across the country and preliminary studies have shown them to be effective, Domagalski said.
The pilot program would embed crisis staff within dispatch and pair crisis workers with a law enforcement officer to respond to calls as one unit.
Crisis staff would both spend time with officers on calls and do follow-ups and relationship building with people repeatedly needing help.
Under the program, the county Health and Human Services Department would more than double an existing contract with Vista Care, a mobile crisis service, to provide 16 hours per day of co-response coverage in the police department and dispatch center.
More:When police respond to people in mental health crises, the outcomes can be fatal. Some departments are taking a different approach.
3. Expand child care options: $2 million
A shortage of early childhood educators and lack of affordable child care options in Sheboygan County is an ongoing problem worsened by the pandemic that impacts families and local employers, Childcare Task force co-chairwomen Gina Covelli and Colleen Steinbruecker wrote.
In Wisconsin, 57 child care slots are available per 100 children with parents who work, according to the task force report.
Sheboygan County’s approximately 40 licensed child care providers have about 1,500 spots for children. As of January, more than 350 children were known to be on a waiting list in the county, with roughly 200 of those younger than age 2, and more families need care than are likely on waiting lists, according to the task force report.
Current child care providers are struggling with staffing shortages and would need 40 new early childhood teachers to operate at capacity, according to the report.
The proposed resolution would allocate $2 million for a range of projects including some or all of the following:
- Supporting agencies that serve youth, such as the Boys of Girls Club of Sheboygan County and Above and Beyond Children’s Museum;
- Hiring a recruitment specialist at Family Connections — a child care resource and referral agency serving Sheboygan County — to recruit and train more childhood educators;
- Hiring inclusion specialist support staff at Family Connections to reduce burnout of childhood educators;
- Expanding programs that provide financial support for child care to low-income families; and
- Providing startup and expansion grants to new and existing child care centers.
4. Support affordable housing: $2.5 million
Sheboygan County has a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, with at least 600 single-family units costing $220,000 or less needed in the next three to five years, the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation estimates.
The proposed resolution would provide $2 million to the SCEDC’s Forward Fund that may assist in land acquisition, construction of affordable single-family homes, senior housing, workforce housing and/or temporary housing.
Sargento Foods Inc., Johnsonville, Kohler Co. and Masters Gallery Foods have each already contributed $2 million to the fund.
The program will ensure that half of the units will be affordable to families based on a moderate income threshold of about $69,000 for a family of three.
The proposed resolution would also provide $500,000 to create a down payment assistance program to support the purchase of single-family homes by entry-level workers with incomes between 80% and 120% of Sheboygan County’s Area Median Income. Existing programs already provide down payment assistance to people and families below 80% of the AMI.
More:How more affordable housing could help with Sheboygan’s decreasing population problem
5. Study and provide transportation: About $500,000
A lack of public transportation options is a barrier to local employers finding entry-level labor, Transportation Taskforce Chairman Derek Muench wrote.
The resolution proposes providing $8,000 for a county-wide transportation study and $500,000 for a project to provide transportation for veterans, elderly and disabled people to receive medical care only available outside of Sheboygan County.
6. Develop Sheboygan County’s Workforce: $2 million
Sheboygan County has a shortage of labor as a result of two demographic shifts: more people retiring or leaving the workforce than entering it and more people leaving Sheboygan County than moving to the area.
In November, about 3,000 jobs were open in Sheboygan County and only 1,700 people were unemployed, the county Workforce Development task force found, according to county Human Resources Director Dennis Miller.
The cost of living in Sheboygan County has risen significantly since 2018, especially the cost of renting or buying a home, according to the task force report.
The proposed resolution provides $2 million for a range of projects including some or all of the following:
- Training to assist families to gain financial literacy and achieve financial sustainability;
- Creating a marketing campaign that sets Sheboygan County apart from other communities and states trying to attract entry-level workers, including refugees;
- Hiring a specialist to support newcomers to the county, and particularly undeserved communities, feel welcomed and connect to community resources; and
- Creating a “relocation package” to assist people with temporary housing, moving expenses and other financial support in their first approximately four months in the county.
Here’s how to attend the county board meeting
The county board will vote on the proposed resolution at the meeting at 6 pm June 21 on the fifth floor of the Sheboygan County Courthouse at 615 N. Sixth St.
People can register to speak at the meeting by calling the County Clerk’s office at 920-459-3003 no later than 5 pm on Monday. Public addresses must be made in person.
People can call in to the meeting remotely. The call-in number, meeting ID and passcode will be available when the agenda is posted Friday at sheboyganmeeting.com.
Reach Maya Hilty at 920-400-7485 or MHilty@sheboygan.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maya_hilty†