“I feel really good that we will get this done before we go on summer break,” Lang said. “And it’s really important to Butler County because of all the townships we have in the county.”
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law in March 2021, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments deal with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Direct distributions of the money went to states, counties and local jurisdictions with 50,000 or more residents. That meant Butler County, Hamilton, Middletown and West Chester Twp. received their funds, but the rest of the county was funded through $843.7 million the U.S. Treasury allocated to Ohio for distribution to “non-entitlement” entities or smaller jurisdictions below the 50,000 population threshold.
The legislature awarded half the money last summer but needed to pass another bill now for the rest. The bill was introduced last July for this allocation but has languished until Hall and D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, plus a host of co-sponsors jumpstarted it.
Lang said he hasn’t heard any opposition to passing the bill, but West Chester Twp. Republican Rep. Jennifer Gross, was one of the 11 lawmakers who voted against the measure.
“The spending emanating from the Biden Administration and Washington is directly responsible for the rampant inflation in Ohio and our nation,” Gross told the Journal-News. “This inflation is crushing family budgets all over my district. I cannot justify placing increased financial burden on my constituents or any Ohio taxpayer.”
Hall said he wasn’t a big fan of ARPA either — as many local Republicans weren’t — but the “money’s already been printed for it” and will be spent somewhere else if not here.
“These monies are already allocated to us, if we don’t use them somebody’s going to use them,” Hall said. “It’s not like we can just turn them down and they go away. These monies are already allocated to the state of Ohio and we are just simply trying to allocate them our local governments.”
Not many Butler County governments have started spending the first allocation of ARPA, some of the smaller townships are concerned about running afoul of government regulations. But as the year has passed some of the rules have been relaxed a bit. Governments could always calculate their pandemic losses using a complicated formula and use the funds for general government purposes, but now they can replace revenue lost up to $10 million. Funds must be obligated by December 31, 2024, and expended by Dec. 31, 2026.
Those that have starting spending the money include:
- Middletown got $19 million and has spent $815,000 to upgrade street lights with LED bulbs; $119,808 for premium pay for some of their union workers and $224,000 for the Middletown Visitors Bureau.
- Oxford was allocated $2.4 million and has spent $483,097, including $6,444 in gift cards for staff to encourage them to get vaccinated; $200,000 to finish ADA curb installation and $113,000 to assist with infrastructure for the Miami University project the commissioners have been asked to support.
- West Chester has allocated all of its $6.6 million for aging storm water infrastructure repairs and replacement. The trustees already spent $42,224 and encumbered $973,100 for projects this year.
The Butler County commissioners have a total of $74.4 million to spend. They decided they will share the bulk of their windfall with other governments and entities countywide and requests totaled about $200 million. The commissioners sifted through them all individually and did their due diligence, vetting the projects that ranged from economic development, workforce development, social services, infrastructure, healthcare, bike trail expansion and a new county morgue to name a few. All three declared a preference for 21 projects but at varying funding levels.
County Administrator Judi Boyko said she sent letters to 11 requesters asking for updated information since their projects were submitted last summer.
“They wanted to get more information, they wanted to see what has been updated, Commissioner Dixon mentioned the cost because of inflationary influences, Commissioner Carpenter mentioned wanting to make sure these things are eligible,” Boyko said. “So I reached out to those entities where there is some consensus about preferred projects and basically said please update your proposals.”
Several entities are still pinpointing projects and others are worried about making mistakes when allocating the funds.
St. Clair Twp. Fiscal Officer Doug Wheelright said they are waiting for more clarification before spending their $488,663. He also wants to see his audit to see if the township spent the CARES money within bounds, because the rules for all this federal money have shifted so many times.
“Because this is all basically a windfall it would devastate your budget if you had to give it back,” Wheelright said.