State House News – County commissioners in parts of Massachusetts where they still exist are used to managing relatively modest budgets, using funds collected through local taxes and fees to maintain courthouses, support regional schools or to manage pensions for employees.

But with $1.3 billion earmarked in the federal stimulus law for counties around the state, this vestige of local government in Massachusetts is about to become flush with cash, creating an unprecedented dilemma for some county officials: Do we keep the money and try to spend it or give it to someone else?

“All the stakeholders are looking for more clarity. I’m advocating for a real close look at this to determine what is the best way for the counties to approach this,” said Norfolk County Treasurer Michael Bellotti.

Norfolk County has an annual budget of about $32 million, but some estimates of the “American Rescue Plan” show the county in line to receive $137 million in relief funding that would have to be spent by the end of 2024.

“They’re trying to figure out what this means and what are the strings attached to this money,” Bellotti said, referring to Norfolk’s three county commissioners.

Unlike in other parts of the country where counties are an integral part of the local government ecosystem, in Massachusetts the county lines are more geographic than jurisdictional. Only six of the state’s 14 counties still have a government apparatus, and residents of those counties mostly depend on the state or their city or town to deliver services.

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