Recently, Senate Bill 357 was passed in support of local governments to allow a third distribution of federal CARES Act funding — a portion of which will be coming to Fayette County.
The total distribution is $650 million to be divided among Ohio counties, municipalities and townships that did not receive a direct distribution from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
This is the third distribution to occur.
Fayette County Commissioner Dan Dean explained, “We got the first distribution, which was around $825,000 for the whole county including the city (it was divided up). Then we got another $400,000 thereabouts that was divided up the same way. Now, this is the final distribution. It’ll be bigger than the first one. It’ll be coming out whenever they get the bill passed.”
According to Dean and county commissioners Jim Garland and Tony Anderson, locally, money has been used to purchase temperature kiosks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and to pay the salary of limited employees whose job responsibilities are in relation to COVID-19.
These salaries include: a sheriff’s deputy working at the courthouse to make sure everyone who enters gets their temperature checked and are wearing masks, a BMV employee keeping track of those waiting in line to keep an eye on social distancing and help people get signed in for service (as they have been quite busy, according to Dean), and a recorder for the Common Pleas Court.
The individual serving as the recorder is needed as the jury must now be spread out for social distancing. Due to this, the recording equipment that was being used (in place of a human recorder) is now unable to be used to cover the entire distance. According to Dean, it costs approximately $600-$800 dollars per trial, which can be covered by the funding as it was caused by COVID.
Overall, according to Anderson and Dean, the county will have approximately $900,000 in CARES funding to utilize while the city will have a larger portion as that is the financial agreement that has been in place between county and city. All local entities of government aside from the city also receive a portion, such as villages and the 10 townships in the county. Other county entities would be able to request a portion of the county funding.
Although the funding can help in various ways and various portions distributed, there are limitations.
“One of the bigger rules that they gave us right off was that we are likely eligible to use the money for something that was neither budgeted nor done on a regular basis prior to COVID,” said Anderson. “So, sometimes that gets a bit imaginative — all the sneeze guards that are up, all of the personal protective stuff like the masks (we didn’t budget for any of that), any extra staff,” said Anderson. “It’s not a real easy fit to make this money go where it might rather be used, and we are not supposed to use it to replace income. We can use it to replace some expenses if we have a way to write the narrative that allows it to be new and unique to COVID.”
According to Anderson, if an audit comes back for incorrectly used funds, it goes to the recipient group and not to the commissioners for disbursing it to them. The recipient group will then “be held liable for their own decision.”
“The problem with it is it’s federal money,” said Dean. “We’re limited on what we can spend it on. We have to use it by the end of the year, unless the federal government passes its new stimulus bill where they are hopefully going to extend the amount of time we have to spend it, maybe through next October instead of through the end of this year. We also were asking them to expand what we could spend the money on.”
One of these potential expansions is to allow the CARES funding to be used to pay the salaries of safety personnel.
“If that is done, that’s a huge change that would allow us to expend a significant portion of the money,” said Dean. “The County Commissioners Association is issuing guidance on that. They’ve been working with not only the federal people that are involved with the CARES act but also the state auditor’s people to make sure it’s a covered expense. What we don’t want to happen is for us to spend the money on something we think was allowed for, and later the government comes back and says, ‘hey, you didn’t do this correctly. We want the money back.’”
Safety personnel could include those maintaining the jail, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) personnel and some of the Fayette County Public Health personnel.
“That’s part of what we are trying to get guidance on — who falls under that blanket,” said Dean.
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.