Coronavirus: Clark, Champaign officials looking at how $5.3M in federal relief money will be spent

Clark and Champaign counties recently received a little under $5.3 million in federal dollars to help pay for unexpected costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

However, local governments are still looking at how that money can be spent before those funds go way at the end of the year. Each local entity within those counties must pass a resolution stating that they are eligible in order to receive their portion of the money.

What exactly that money will be spent on is still being figured out as those expenditures have to be in compliance with federal guidelines. Local governments can only use that money to reimburse items in their budgets that were deemed unexpected due to the pandemic.

It cannot be used to supplement general funds that have been hit by a drop in income or retail tax collections due to the immediate economic impact of the pandemic.

The funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed by congress in March. The latest allocations are designed to provide relief to local governments that have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

CARES Act funding has been allocated to some entities and agencies in the area during the pandemic. Some of that money has previously come through grants awarded by federal agencies such as the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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However, the most recent allocations of the first time CARES Act funding is being directed to local governments as a whole in the state. It is suppose to cover expenses made as those entities altered their operations in order to adapt to state guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Those allocations to local governments comes from a bill that was signed last month by Gov. Mike Dewine that directed $350 million of the state’s portion of CARES Act money to local governments across the state.

That bill addresses those entities that were not included in the U.S. Treasury Department’s first allocation that went only to state and county governments with populations above 500,000.

Funding for Ohio school districts and colleges is being handled separately, and DeWine on Thursday they are in line to receive about $300 million.

In total, the state of Ohio has received $4.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds, according to State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield.

Some local entities that passed a resolution for the money began receiving their portion at the end of June.

In total Clark County received a little over $4.2 million in CARES Act money to be distributed to its 21 local governments. Champaign County received a little over $1 million that can be distributed to its 20 local governments.

Once those entities receive their funds, they have until Dec. 31 to spend it. If the money is unspent by then it is to be returned and redistributed to those that have already spent their allocations.

The City of Springfield will received the largest portion of the money, getting approximately $2 million. Clark County’s governmental entity is slated to receive $1.8 million. The third largest allocation in that county will go to Springfield Twp., which is expected to receive about $50,000.

In Champaign County, the county government will receive the largest share of the money and is expected to get a little over $500,000. The City of Urbana is eligible to receive about $301,000 and the Village of Mechanicsburg is eligible to receive the third largest allocation in that county, which is about $42,000.

Clark County Auditor John Federer said that eight local entities have submitted resolutions to his office to receive their share. It is up to county auditor offices in the state to distribute the money and they have up to a week to do so once receiving resolutions from local governments requesting their share of the money.

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That money is allocated using the state formula that determines how much entities get in local government funding. Those local governments that have not passed resolutions to collect the federal relief money can still do so.

“We are responsible to distribute and report what was spent. The entity is responsible for compliance,” Federer said.

What that money will be spent on is still being figured out by those that are expecting to receive their share. So far discussions have been centered around expenses made by local governments in order to adapt to the pandemic.

That includes anything from cleaning supplies to technology needed to allow a large number of employees to work remotely. There are also discussions on whether the money can be used to reimburse salaries paid to workers who were quarantined and to cover hours worked by employees that were engaged in tasks related to the pandemic.

However, it can’t be used to fill gaps in budgets due to a hit in general fund revenues. But, expenditures that will be reimbursed can allow more general fund revenue to go towards non-COVID related costs, said Paul Hicks, the emergency services manager for the City of Springfield.

The economic impact on each governmental entity in both counties differs. Some have started to see the effect of the pandemic on general fund revenues over the last few months. For others, it will take time to gauge the true financial impact of the pandemic due to a delays in certain tax collections.

For Springfield, there has been a roughly 10% drop in general fund revenue for this year as of June when compared to the same period in 2019, said Mark Beckdahl, the city’s finance director. Roughly 80% of the city’s general fund revenue comes from income tax, which has seen a dip due to the pandemic.

In May, Clark County officials cut more than $1.8 million from their budgets in order to assist the Board of Clark County Commissioners as they anticipated sales tax losses for the year.

However, it is unclear how great the financial impact will be on local governments for the remainder of 2020 as it depends largely on how quickly the economy can rebound. Ohio began reopening portions of its economy in May.

In terms of how to spend the CARES Act allocation, local officials say they are still figuring out what has been spent directly as result of the pandemic and some are looking at making additional expenditures related to the pandemic.

“There are a lot of rules associated with it. The majority of it is pretty clear. As we look over it, there are a couple of things that we have questioned,” Hicks said regarding the City of Springfield.

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Some of those questions are centered around salary reimbursements, such as covering pay for those quarantined and if benefits could also be included. He said other costs that will likely be covered include social distancing barriers put in place at city hall, modifications made to city office spaces as well as equipment needed for remote work.

Future modifications, as the pandemic is still ongoing, can also be factored in terms of the relief money. That includes the need for more supplies in terms of disinfecting city buildings or additional equipment in the case that a large number of employees return to working remotely.

“We have to evaluate what we have and what we would need if our employees have to work remotely again. We have to make sure we have an availability of equipment so we can continue operations without any disruptions,” Hicks said.

He said they are still in the beginning stages in terms of factoring in costs already made as a result of the pandemic as well as what other areas the money can be used.

Those details are still being discussed by city officials.

In terms of city costs that will not be reimbursed as a result of the federal relief money, Hicks said ” We don’t know what the future holds. We have to be mindful of our spending.”

On a county level, Clark County Administrator Jennifer Hutchinson said that county government elected officials and representatives will be meeting on Wednesday to discuss further what can be done with the county’s CARES Act allocation.

Federal relief money that will be distributed by each county

Clark County: $4.2 million

Champaign County: $1 million

Local governmental entities that are eligible to receive the largest share of the relief money

City of Springfield: $2 million

Clark County government: $1.8 million

Champaign County government: $500,000

City of Urbana: $301,000