Butler County has $7.4 million in new requests for CARES funds. Who is seeking money?

The Butler County Emergency Management Agency is asking for $2.85 million in Community Development Block Grant money to create a permanent place for future vaccination clinics and fix damage caused to the fairgrounds during clinics this year.  NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
The Butler County Emergency Management Agency is asking for $2.85 million in Community Development Block Grant money to create a permanent place for future vaccination clinics and fix damage caused to the fairgrounds during clinics this year. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County has received requests totaling $7.4 million for federal Community Development Block Grant funding that targets pandemic-related issues, but the problem is only $1.78 is available.

As part of the federal CARES relief funding Congress awarded at the start of the pandemic, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Development also doled out funds through the CDBG program.

Development Director David Fehr said they received 24 applications and he and County Administrator Judi Boyko will vet them and bring recommendations for the commissioners approval soon.

“I hope you rate them on the most desperate need,” Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said. “I know there are a lot of categories here and some of them aren’t quite as desperate as others, and some of them have funding from other sources.”

CDBG projects must benefit low-to-moderate income populations and areas and these particular funds also have the caveat that the money “be spent to assist people/communities impacted by COVID or to prevent people from getting COVID” Fehr said.

Several of the projects submitted would likely qualify for the annual allotment of CDBG funding the commissioners award annually, namely sidewalks and park projects, but probably won’t make the cut for this money, according to Fehr.

Others, like a $500,000 Shared Harvest Foodbank request to provide comprehensive COVID related hunger relief — they have $2.3 million in matching funds which is always a plus — and several requests to provide transitional living and other help for the homeless that total around $500,000, would appear to be eligible under the guidelines Fehr said.

One request is out of the ordinary for CDBG funds, a company wants $443,000 in start-up costs for an affordable healthcare business in Ross Twp. with a model that offers low income residents “sliding fee scales based on the client’s ability to pay.” The request includes one year of salaries.

“We generally don’t (pay for salaries) just because there’s a lot of strings attached,” Fehr said. “It’s a lot of paperwork on our end. If it’s a good enough reason we might, but we’ve generally stayed away from that.”

The two largest requests total $2.85 million and came from the county’s own Emergency Management Agency, to repair parts of the fairground damaged during mass vaccination clinics and to build a warehouse to serve as a vaccine operations center and supply storage for future pandemics and emergencies.

During the COVID crisis the county health districts and EMA have been staging vaccination clinics and drive-thru immunization events at the county fairgrounds. The fairgrounds were never designed for heavy traffic and the grounds have been damaged by heavy use.

The county health district has administered 33,500 shots there and EMA Director Matt Haverkos told the Journal-News the Hamilton Health Department has also hosted about 20,000 drive-thrus on the grounds. He said the $2 million plan is not only fix what has been damaged.

“We have designed this to expand out as a drive-thru anytime we need it,” Haverkos said. “We can basically turn on the switch if we needed to do boosters, or we needed to do anything additional in the vaccination efforts for the time to come.”

Early on in the pandemic when personal protective equipment was scarce Commissioner Don Dixon said he wanted to find or build a place to stockpile mass supplies in situations like this, “Instead of waiting on somebody out of state shipping it to you, we should be able to put our hands on it,” Dixon told the Journal-News during budget time last year.

Haverkos has proposed an $850,000 permanent structure at the fairgrounds to house future vaccination and booster clinics and stockpile supplies.

“It is a priority and we have been thinking about it, there’s no doubt about that,” Dixon said of a stockpile facility. “There has been some discussion with the sheriff, we’re building a substantially big storage warehouse beside the jail, there’s been some discussion about using part of that for PPE stuff and all that.”

The price on the sheriff’s 80 x 200 foot pole barn is $289,300 and will be used to house equipment.

Major Mike Craft said “Commissioner Dixon can use as much of it as he wants.”

Dixon said no decisions have been made but the sheriff’s facility could be a short-term solution. As for fixing the fairgrounds themselves, Dixon said some repairs have already been done “but I can’t say we’re going to blacktop the whole thing for $2 million, but we’ll leave it better than we found it.”

Fehr will be presenting the final recommendations to the whole board soon and he said once approved by HUD they could disburse the money a month or two later.

“If we want to be impactful we need to get the money spent,” Fehr said.

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