Plain City may use CARES money for police expenses

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Following a change to guidelines from the state, Plain City Council is pursuing a new way to spend their federal coronavirus relief dollars.
During Wednesday’s work session, council discussed the possibility of using CARES Act funding to reimburse personnel costs at the police department.
Village Administrator Nathan Cahall said Plain City has approximately $150,000 left to allocate of the nearly $300,000 it received.
He said it “may make sense to reimburse police fund expenses since March.”
Village Solicitor Paul Lafayette said there were strict requirements as to how funding could be used for personnel expenses. CARES Act funding could only be used on employees who were “substantially dedicated to mitigating the COVID-19 emergency.”
He said the requirement meant the village “can’t generally kick into the police department.”
However, Village Administrator Nathan Cahall said the Ohio Office of Budget and Management provided revised guidelines on Oct. 29.
He said the new guidance indicates “public safety and public health personnel are presumed for administrative convenience to be substantially dedicated to COVID response.”
Lafayette explained this would allow municipalities to use CARES Act dollars as payroll replacement for public safety, although it was not permitted previously.
“Based on this language, it sounds like they’ve opened the door to those expenses,” he said.
However, Council member Frank Reed suggested using the funds in a manner that he said will help “mitigate the pandemic.”
He said there are “a lot of things we can do in the community to help residents and the businesses.” He suggested buying a supply of face masks for each local business to help them comply with state requirements.
Reed said the village could also provide grants for local business owners or residents who have been affected by the pandemic.
Lafayette, though, said attempting to establish a grant program in the week before the funds need to be encumbered – by Nov. 20 – is “dangerous.”
“From a legal standpoint, it makes me very uncomfortable because now we’re in a position of picking winners and losers,” he said.
While grants may not be viable, council members agreed that purchasing face masks and other protective gear for businesses would be beneficial.
Ultimately, the board said they want to ensure all of the funding stays within the village.
“I think we can all agree we’re not trying to send any of this money back,” Council President John Rucker said.
Cahall said Friday morning that after allocating funding for coronavirus-related costs within village operations and purchasing PPE for businesses, approximately $100,000 will be left for the police department.
He said Fiscal Officer Renee Sonnett is currently discussing how to most appropriately encumber the funds with the state Auditor’s Office.
There are two ways the funds could be allocated for police personnel, Cahall explained.
Either the dollars will be transferred into the police fund, or the personnel costs will be paid directly out of the CARES Act fund and a ledger entry will indicate reimbursement of police costs.
The money will not be added to the general fund.
Even so, Cahall said this could allow for a larger general fund in the 2021 budget. Instead of transferring from the general fund to the police fund next year, the CARES Act dollars could be supplementing the police fund.



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