$1.3M distributed by Butler County will fund dental van, tourism group

Nearly $1.3 million in COVID-19 rescue funds awarded by the Butler County commissioners will support two major projects.

The Butler County Visitors Bureau will soon have $750,000 in hand to help local tourism and hotel industries recover from the crippling effects of the pandemic and Primary Health Solutions $520,526 to refurbish their dental van.

The commissioners approved sub-recipient agreements with the two entities on Monday, freeing their funding. These projects are the first out of the $51.3 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds the commissioners allocated. They awarded $45.8 million to 15 outside agencies and the rest for county projects.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The county’s slice was $74.4 million.

Rather than keep all the money in-house the commissioners decided to share the windfall with other governments and groups. The county received an eclectic array of funding requests totaling more than $200 million including economic development projects, help for the homeless, propping up small businesses, park and bike trail expansion and a new county morgue to name a few. They ranged in price from $24 million for new advanced aviation and manufacturing training centers in Middletown and Hamilton to $125,000 for healthcare worker training.

The Butler County Visitors Bureau was directly hit by the pandemic when travel screeched to a halt. Mark Hecquet president and CEO of the BCVB was looking for $1.4 million to recoup lost hotel tax revenues due to the pandemic and commissioners approved $750,000.

Explore$5 million going to Butler County townships to improve roads

He told the Journal-News as soon as they receive the cash they will put it to work helping the local tourism and hotel industries.

“We in essence put together quite an in-depth marketing plan, how we were basically going to invest this money into our sales and marketing initiatives to give them a boost to help drive business back into our hotels and attractions,” Hecquet said. “We’re going to basically expand some of our marketing efforts and some of our outreach programs to help drive business back into our communities.”

Primary Health Solutions could not be reached for comment about the $520,526 award, but Marc Bellisario, who has since retired, told the commissioners at a work session a year ago the money will be used to gut and refurbish a dental van they got in 2013. They travel to schools and hospitals doing pre-screenings and simple procedures like cleaning, fillings and extractions. They have served over 100,000 patients in the vehicle.

“Although it’s built to last it needs refurbishing from time to time, so all the dental equipment on there is over 15 years old,” Bellasario said. “Because you’re on a dental van it’s constantly jiggling when you’re driving and all this equipment is sensitive. Keeping up to date is important and you need to do replacements.... It needs to continue to be out in the community serving our kids and serving community members who may not have access to dental care.”

The commissioners held five weekly work sessions on 32 funding requests last year and vetted the various asks individually, the projects that advanced were those all three agreed upon. The process has taken a long time but these federal funds had many strings attached, including allowable uses for the money like whether they helped recovery from the ill-effects of the pandemic and served the underprivileged, to name a few.

The county also has to make very sure the people receiving the funds use it according to the federal guidelines, because they are ultimately responsible if the federal government questions expenditures later.

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News it has been a complicated process but they have made certain “we should not have one question from the government about did you follow the rules and where did the money go.”

“It could be real simple to throw that money out and just say here you go, go spend it on what ideas you have,” Dixon said. “We required some detailed project descriptions and expenditures and then once they got past those different levels of review then they had to go meet the criteria of what the intent of the fund of the monies required through our accounting process and review process by an independent firm plus the prosecutor’s office, plus they have to meet reporting requirements that we have put in place.”

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners they have another dozen subrecipient agreements in the “pipeline” that will be coming for the commissioners’ approval soon. She said she needs to make modifications to a couple of the projects, like amending the $4 million the commissioners originally allotted to help townships with their roads to reflect the increase to $5 million they recently approved.

She plans to bring the next wave of projects — for the remaining $23.1 million in ARPA money — that received some level of support from the commissioners for them to debate in mid-October.

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