How would you invest up to $85 million during a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a generational change for the better for north central Ohio residents?

We want you to tell us, using the form below. Please take a moment, however, to read the guidelines for the investments in this story before answering.

The American Rescue Plan, approved by Congress and signed by President Biden, provides an $85 million-plus opportunity to dramatically improve life in Richland, Ashland, Crawford and Knox counties.

Richland, Ashland, Knox and Crawford counties will receive $54 million combined. City governments in Mansfield, Ashland, Mount Vernon and Bucyrus will take in another $31 million. 

The total for this region exceeds $85 million -- and that doesn't include smaller cities and villages and the dollars they will take from the ARP, such as $1.8 million in Shelby, $1.1 million in Ontario and $900,000 in Lexington.

We want your ideas on how to best invest the money in our area. Keep in mind, there are some restrictions, though not as many as with the CARES Act dollars in 2020. And the timeline to spend the money is much longer, perhaps in years, instead of months.

According to the act, local governments can use the funds:

• To respond to or mitigate the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts.

• To cover costs incurred as a result of such emergency.

• Replace revenue that was lost, delayed, or decreased, as determined based on revenue projections for the metropolitan city, non-entitlement unit of local government, or county as a result of COVID-19.

• Address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic emergency.

The actual meaning of that language is still being brought into focus by the U.S. Treasury. More clarification and guidance will be provided to local elected officials.

But the language seems broader, more flexible than the CARES Act and also more inclusive, including "addressing negative economic impacts."

According to the language of the new law, funds can go toward increased pay for essential workers, preventing cuts to government services, and making investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure as well.

Some have even complained the package lacks "any meaningful guardrails" for how state and local governments can spend the funds.

Certainly, there's a lot of bureaucratic tape to get through. Sure, you can't spend the money on just anything. 

But eventually, this money will have to be spent. So we're curious: What would you like to see it spent on? How would you invest this money for the greatest return on that investment?

Will the funds merely provide a brief financial stimulus or will they seed a new trajectory of inclusive economic growth?

It's time for everyone to participate in the conversation -- business and industry leaders, charitable foundations and non-profits, entrepreneurs, health care leaders, educational leaders, union leaders, and yes, local residents.

Send us your ideas. We will publish the best ones. And we will make sure your good responses are seen by mayors, city and village council members and county commissioners.

Your checkbook has millions. How do you want to use it in ways that will benefit this area for years to come?

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