Why Ismay, Formerly Known As Joe, MT, Lowered His Stimulus Money | national news


ISMAY – Tens of millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief money allocated by the federal government under the March US bailout law has flowed to cities in Montana, funding intended to iron out strained budgets pandemic and to support investments in water and sewerage infrastructure.

A town in eastern Montana, where the 2020 census counted 17 residents, responded with a polite no thanks.

“We really don’t need it for anything, so you might as well go to someone who can use it,” longtime Ismay Mayor Gene Nemitz said in an interview this week.

Ismay, the smallest incorporated municipality in the state, was to receive $ 4,853.35 from the local government relief program, which allocated much larger sums to more populous towns: $ 15.9 million to Billings, 117,000 residents, for example, and $ 2.1 million in Miles City. , which has about 8,400 inhabitants. In total, Montana municipalities received $ 86.4 million.

The relief amounts specific to incorporated towns and villages have been calculated by the US Treasury on a population basis. Cities of over 50,000 people receive money directly from the federal government, while payments to small towns are channeled through the state government. A first cycle of payments was made in June, with a second cycle expected next year.

Montana counties also received their own relief allocations, totaling $ 208 million, as did the tribes and the state government – the latter putting hundreds of millions of dollars of its relief funds into a separate program of infrastructure grants from local government.

Relief funds have a specific set of permitted uses. Government entities can spend the money on public health work related to COVID and efforts to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic, but cannot use the money to fund retirement programs or cutbacks. ‘taxes. Local governments can also patch up their budgets when revenues have dwindled due to the pandemic or invest the money in water, sewer or broadband internet projects.

Local governments can, for example, use their direct allocation to meet a requirement for local matching funds for the state infrastructure grant program.

Gene Nemitz stands in the office of the grain elevator, which his father bought when Nemitz was 13 years old.

The challenge for Ismay, Nemitz said, is that his rudimentary municipal government does not offer services that fit these categories. There is no municipal water or sewer system, he said, just a few gravel streets that the city takes care of.

“Really, we don’t have much other than a few street lights that stay on,” Nemitz said.

As a result, Ismay’s leadership informed the state that it would deny his allowance. An email exchange between the State Administration Department and Ismay City Clerk Barbara Simonsen at the end of July indicates that the city will repay its down payment.

Ismay, located east of Miles City, consists of a grain elevator, post office, church, and community hall tucked away next to a few houses. It’s six miles from the nearest paved road, US Highway 12, in a stretch of Montana so sparsely populated that little signs along the road list the names of individual owners.

It's not much

Ismay, the smallest incorporated town in Montana, had around 500 residents a century ago. Today, a few houses, a church, a post office, a community center and a grain elevator are surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned buildings.

Ismay is probably best known for the stint in the 1990s when his residents voted to rename the town Joe, Montana after the NFL quarterback – a publicity stunt launched by a Kansas City radio station.

This episode ultimately produced a modest injection of infrastructure funding that did not involve the US Treasury. By selling t-shirts and other novelty items, locals were able to raise enough money to repair a fire truck and build the community hall, the Joe Montana Center, which doubles as a fire station.

The Joe Montana Center is starting to show outdoor wear these days – the last Montana “a” on its sign was missing when a reporter photographed it in late July. Nemitz, however, said it wasn’t about the money and that the community had enough to keep the center in an account funded mostly by donations.

“Really, we’re fine. We don’t need a lot, ”he said. “So there is no sense in taking money that we don’t need.”


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