Butler County deciding plan for $18.7M in coronavirus relief funding: How could it be spent?

Butler County Administrator Judi Boyko presented the commissioners a tentative plan this week for spending $18.7 million in federal coronavirus funding, the bulk of it targeting virus spread and pandemic repercussions.

The county has received the CARES Act money and has until Nov. 20 to decide how to spend it and Dec. 30 to spend it.

Boyko said the county has already spent about $500,000 installing plexiglass, sanitizing county buildings, undergoing other protective measures, creating a community awareness campaign and providing staffing help for the health department.

The proposed list identifies about $11.45 million in itemized categories and the remainder, $7.24 million, could be used to offset eligible law enforcement, correctional facilities, Emergency Management Agency, Care Facility and general health district salaries that have spent time dealing with the pandemic.

Jurisdictions recently learned the U.S. Treasury has relaxed rules on using CARES money to reimburse for salaries. Itemized hourly accounting of hours worked on dealing with the pandemic is no longer required, so most jurisdictions are using a large chunk of CARES money to offset some salary expenses.

ExploreWith coronavirus surging in Ohio, Butler County plans to stockpile PPE

One of the bigger items under consideration is awarding $6 million for enhanced COVID testing and vaccine distribution.

“It would generally be working with an entity to acquire the materials to do the testing and then also have infrastructure in place, whether it be stationary or mobile, to do testing and lab results, and be able to deliver data analytics” she said. “The same entity would need to be able to pivot to vaccinations when they become more broadly community based.”

Another $500,000 was identified to integrate more mental health and wellness programs in the community to combat depression and other afflictions brought on by isolation and fear.

MHARS Board President Pat Deis-Gleeson said she is concerned, especially for the older residents.

“I think about the fact that when we retire we reinvent ourselves, the majority of us don’t sit down and knit and we don’t just sit down and watch sports TV, we get on boards and we get involved and that has been curtailed by such a large amount in the last seven months,” Deis-Gleeson said.

“There are mornings I get up and I’m in a funk, I call it a funk. So I’m very concerned that this winter there is going to be a crisis coming up about mental health wellness, because you can handle this for so long and I think we’re at the so long.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter asked MHARS Executive Director Scott Rasmus to help them develop programs that will address the new normal.

“I think we have touched the people with the more challenging issues because that’s what everybody here works for,” Carpenter said. “I think this new era is something different, that we may have to adapt to as we plan this out. I know Administrator Boyko has been right on top of it, but anything you guys can think of created outside the box that would help us use the CARES money for a better reach.”

Some other possible expenses include $1.5 million in sub-grants to local jurisdictions so they can help small businesses. Another $500,000 could go smaller townships to recoup coronavirus costs.

Not on the tentative plan is Boyko’s pilot jobs program, that carried a very preliminary price tag of $750,000. The pandemic has created a glut of workers who are underemployed or unemployed and businesses that are recreating themselves to produce products in demand because of the virus. White Dog Distilling Company in Middletown, for instance, is making hand sanitizer.

The program would identify the workforce needs of local businesses that changed because of the pandemic and provide training for displaced workers. Boyko said timing is the main reason she didn’t add it to the list.

“Only because logistically I’m not sure I’m going to be able to process that program before the end of the year,” Boyko told the Journal-News. “So I believe the program definitely has merit and to varying degrees the commissioners do as well, but we want to focus on the most immediate need.”

ExploreButler County planning new jobs program with coronavirus relief funds

With gridlock in Washington, U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, has been unable to pass legislation that allows more flexibility in what CARES Act money to be used for and extends the deadlines. He told the Journal-News he and some other Ohio legislators have asked the House Ways and Means Committee to extend the CARES funding deadline until next September.

“I recently was talking to a county commissioner who was very frustrated because there is no easy way to spend this money by Dec. 31,” Davidson said. "The fear is that people are going to push it towards projects that maybe wouldn’t be as helpful overall but would be spent by Dec. 31, because people are afraid if they don’t use it they’ll lose it.

He said he believes there will be more stimulus money flowing after the election and it should be more flexible than the first round was.

The proposed county plan also includes $100,000 for Commissioner Don Dixon’s request that the county find a place to stockpile personal protective equipment and other emergency supplies; $200,000 to retrofit county buildings with touchless faucets and toilets and other capital improvements, to name a few.

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