Local officials are making plans to spend their share of the more than $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020, created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), designating $150 billion for payments “to state, local, and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
States can use this funding to cover pandemic-related costs incurred from the beginning of March through the end of 2020 that were not anticipated in their budgets before March 2020.
The federal guidelines require the money is spent on costs incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.
In Ohio, funds were distributed to counties, townships and municipalities by the state Office of Budget and Management using the same formula used to distribute local government funds.
As part of the fund, the county government received $2.9 million and Marysville has received a little more than $1.2 million.
Money not encumbered by the end of last week was to be returned to a local pot and redistributed to those who spent all their prior allocated funds.
Union County Administrator Tim Hansley said county officials tried to “spread the money over the whole need as best we could.”
“A lot of it has been reaching out to county offices and agencies, as well as non-profits and social services in the county and asking them what they need and how we can help,” County Commissioner Chris Schmenk said.
She said the commissioners tried to help, “the businesses, the people, the agencies most in need.”
Schmenk said officials did look for proven solutions as well as items that would have lasting benefits for the county after the pandemic is over.
Union County Auditor Andrea Weaver said the county has spent $143,188 on supplies and materials with an additional $70,250 encumbered; $171,624 for contract services with an additional $446,217 encumbered; $305,922 for equipment with an additional $260,524.86 encumbered; and $808,280 for refunds and reimbursements with an additional $773,505.96 encumbered.
County officials also encumbered $125,000 for the YMCA, $223,000 for the Mental Health and Recovery Board and $50,000 for the Hope Center.
Initially, the county had set aside $100,000 for IMPACT60 to fund a homeless shelter for the county. The commissioners increased that amount, but eventually moved away from the idea and reallocated those funds to other items.
Weaver said $755,000 is allocated to refund departments for public safety and health department payroll.
Hansley said that paying for salaries is a creative way to “make sure we weren’t sending money back.”
“We wanted to make sure we spent all of the money, but that we did it legally,” Hansley said.
Officials said it has been difficult at times to know what the money could or could not be used for.
Schmenk said a lot of agencies tried to stretch what could be covered.
“We tried to not have frivolous uses of the dollars,” Schmenk said.
Hansley said the county commissioners, “still had to say ‘No’ to a lot of proposals, so we could say ‘Yes’ to things that really do matter.”
County officials said other highlights include:
-Upgrades to IT in various county departments so residents and others can access services remotely;
-Sanitizing county offices and shared facilities;
-Purchase of air filtering systems and temperature scanning machines;
-Equipping county offices with windows and work station upgrades to stop the spread of COVID;
-Providing funds to the Union County Health Department;
-Safety services (Sheriff’s Office);
-Social services to help residents in need;
-Assistance to local nonprofits affected by loss of revenues caused by COVID-19;
-Assistance to small businesses affected by loss of revenues and increased expenses due to COVID-19;
-Assistance to various departments to assist with PPE and other protective measures; and
-Assistance to the Union County Office of Economic Development to bolster its workforce development.
“We are very grateful for the program and it does a great job of recognizing the needs of counties and the small municipalities to be able to help their community,” Hansley said.
He added that if not for the CARES funding, “we would have been laying people off to meet those needs.”
While city officials are taking a different approach to spending their money, they said they have the same goal as the county.
“Everything that we are trying to do is to try to utilize these funds in a variety of different areas that impact people and that people utilize,” City Manager Terry Emery said.
Emery said that much of the money is being used, “assisting our safety personnel to assist them in working in the environment they have to work in now.”
To date, the city has spent $156,888 for public safety departments, and approved an additional $131,522 for purchase of equipment for the city’s public safety departments to avoid equipment sharing between shifts and lessen cross contamination risk.
“To be honest, we are taking very seriously the use of these funds to mitigate the risk to our staff and to the public,” Marysville Finance Director Brad Lutz said.
Emery said the city’s risk mitigation is working, as there have been minimal COVID-19 cases among the city’s more than 300 employees.
He said that while some of the items may seem only loosely tied to fighting COVID, the priority is to keep the virus from spreading among the staff members, particularly first responders.
“If we aren’t careful, it could go through and just wipe out our entire fire department,” Emery said. “That’s what we were afraid of and that’s what we want to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Lutz said he feels, “very confident in this list and the items on it that they do have a direct link.”
In addition to money for the safety services, the city has expended or approved:
– $100,000 for the 3R program to help local businesses;
– $20,000 to the Hope Center to fund a utility payment support program;
– $26,393 in miscellaneous supplies and PPE equipment related to COVID-19;
– $19,625 for an additional road message board to alert residents of restrictions, routes to clinic/vaccination events, etc.;
– $9,800 for temperature scanning devices to be placed at entrances used for taking temperatures of persons that are entering buildings;
– $7,015 for steel barricades and a trailer for hauling and storage to aid in social distancing and queue management at city events and buildings; and
– $34,954 for a high velocity blower for sanitization of outdoor equipment in city parks or social areas like Partner’s Park. The price includes an Utility Terrain Vehicle to haul the blower and sanitizer tank.
“We want our public to continue to feel comfortable when they participate in these activities and we want to be able to spread some of that money to do that,” Emery said.
While the county is using money to reimburse salaries, Lutz called that his “last option.”
Lutz said using CARES funds to pay for salaries in an effort to boost fund balances, “was not the intent of money.”
He added that “it doesn’t make much sense” to use one-time money like CARES funding to offset recurring costs like personnel expenses, to reduce city fees or provide a tax relief.
“The reality is, Marysville feels very strongly that these monies need to be used to do what we can to directly combat COVID or to benefit those who have been directly impacted by COVID the most,” Lutz said.
Plain City officials had a different opinion and leveraged an update in CARES Act guidance to spend the majority of their funding for payroll expenses.
Fiscal Officer Renee Sonnett said the village received $295,000 from both Union and Madison counties. She said Plain City encumbered all of the funding and none will be returned to the counties.
Initially, CARES Act funding could only be used on employees who were “substantially dedicated to mitigating the COVID-19 emergency.”
In late October, the Ohio Budget of Management updated guidance to allow for CARES Act dollars to be used for payroll replacement.
Sonnett said $185,000, which remained after other expenditures were encumbered, will be used to reimburse police department payroll expenses since March.
A portion of the funding, $56,000, was also used for zoning software to allow employees to work from home during the pandemic.
Aside from personnel, the majority of Plain City’s funding was allocated for PPE and disinfectants.
Sonnett said the village spent $7,000 on PPE and disinfectants for the police department and parks department. Approximately $1,950 was also used for ozone machines to disinfect rooms in village property and vehicles.
Installing handwashing stations at Pastime Park costed approximately $30,000.
CARES dollars were also used to purchase equipment to help local businesses abide by public health orders. Sonnett said disinfectant and PPE for businesses costed $6,000.
Unlike Union County, Marysville and Plain City, Jerome Township did not encumber the entirety of their CARES Act funding.
Jerome Township received just over $243,000 in CARES Act funding, but will return approximately $59,000 to the County Auditor.
Fiscal Officer Robert Caldwell noted the funds were expended as of Nov. 17 and encumbered to be spent by Dec. 30.
According to a document from Caldwell, a significant amount of funding was directed toward the Jerome Township Division of Fire.
The largest expenditure made by the township was allocated on turnout gear for firefighters, which totaled $38,794 over several purchases.
Fire Chief Douglas Stewart said firefighters did not previously have an extra set of turnout gear.
Other equipment purchased for the fire department included: equipment to test the fit of respirators for $18,820; cardiac monitor upgrades for $7,000; a stair chair for $3,599; and a washer and dryer for $2,706.84.
Officials also spent $19,358.97 on flooring for the fire station and township hall. An additional $2,000 was spent on a new door for the township hall’s administrative front office.
While they didn’t total as much compared to other purchases, the most expenditures went toward the purchase of PPE and disinfectants or other sanitizers.
Hand sanitizer, face shields and respirators, disinfecting wipes and sprays and other similar purchases totaled $5.715.42.
A variety of purchases were also made to enforce public health guidelines during meetings at the township hall.
Officials spent $3,469.99 on television monitors in the meeting space and $4,650 on contact-free temperature scanners. One of the scanners was placed at the fire department.
Personnel costs were also bolstered by CARES Act dollars.
The township also spent $25,890 for employee overtime and benefits related to the pandemic.
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