Butler County jurisdictions deciding how to spend $155.6 million in federal funds: What they could do

Butler County Government Services Center

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Butler County Government Services Center

Butler County jurisdictions have been allocated a total of $155.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding that has many officials trying to decipher some of the guidelines.

The distribution list of American Rescue Plan dollars shows the Butler County government getting the largest allotment by far at $74.5 million, and values go down to $6,809 for tiny Jacksonburg. The county, Hamilton, Middletown and West Chester Twp. all received their funds directly from the U.S. Treasury. The rest of the money was doled out based on population by the state.

The county has been collecting ideas from a wide variety of sources, so they can share their wealth and hopefully make a lasting difference in the economic wellbeing of the county as a whole. Proposals are still being submitted for the rescue funds — six have been received by County Administrator Judi Boyko — and at last count the requests totaled at least $26 million, not including ideas Commissioner Cindy Carpenter has been collecting.

The funds have limited uses: mitigate the impact of the pandemic on households and businesses, non-profits and other industries; grant premium pay for essential workers, government or to employers dealing with the pandemic; revenue loss due to the pandemic and investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

“The fiscal officer and I have been talking but we were kind of scratching our heads about how do you really prove that,” Hanover Twp. Administrator Bruce Henry said.

He said he will be participating in a webinar hosted by the Ohio Township Association (OTA) to learn more about how they can apply the township’s $896,774 allocation.

Boyko told the Journal-News a very preliminary revenue loss estimate for the county is nearly $10 million, which will be confirmed. The commissioners have not met collectively to discuss the ARP money but she said her sense is they won’t want to use the funds to pay themselves back.

“The board of commissioners has been committed to invest in the county with projects and programs that will sustain for future endeavors,” Boyko said. “Recouping lost revenue to the general fund due to the pandemic based on the American Rescue formula has not been a highly discussed topic. That decision will be part of a public conversation.”

ExploreCOVID-19 relief funds: Butler County commissioners considering $26 million-plus in requests

Commissioner Don Dixon said the county is in a good financial position to using the funds to recoup losses might not be necessary.

“Our first priority is to make sure that whatever we spend benefits the majority of Butler County residents and taxpayers,” Dixon said. “Our general fund is sufficient to do what we need to do to carry on county business without having to take any of that money and put it in there.”

West Chester Twp. was allocated $6.6 million in ARP money, and the trustees are looking to spend a large amount of that on repairing aging storm sewers. Finance Director Ken Keim said the guidance from the federal government is confusing, but the township could prove it lost about $6.7 million between 2019 and 2020. These losses include gas taxes when few people were driving, hotel taxes when no one was traveling, investment income and tax increment financing funds.

But it’s unclear how the ARP funds that must be obligated by 2024 and full spent by 2026 have to factor in future years, he said.

Just like everyone else, Middletown will receive its $18.9 million in two payments , this year and next. Middletown has also asked the commissioners for $6.6 million to help the city “transform and redevelop” the Ohio 4 corridor entrance to the city and support the Oakland Neighborhood revitalization.

City Manager Jim Palenick said the city has carved about $4 million out of ARP funds for smaller projects and revenue recovery might be part of that pot of money. The rest will be invested in the redevelopment projects they outlined for the commissioners plus riverfront and Towne Mall redevelopment. They have also asked Warren County for help with the Towne Mall project.

“Most of the dollars would be going to those three large-scale, transformative economic development or redevelopment projects,” Palenick said. “We absolutely (still) need the commissioners’ help and they would be helping us in those areas.”

The cities with populations below 50,000 received their funding from the state’s allocation and only recently learned their shares which are: Fairfield ($4.4 million), Oxford ($2.4 million), Monroe ($1.47 million) and Trenton ($1.37 million). Reimbursement for revenue loss is still on the table

The Ohio townships were originally left out of ARP funding and also just received allocation awards. Fairfield and Liberty township officials say they do not plan on replenishing revenues out of their windfalls. The other smaller townships are also awaiting further guidance from the OTA.

Madison Twp. Trustee Board President Brian McGuire said their $938,779 allotment is almost a third of their annual budget and they are being very deliberative in deciding how to use it. He said they will not make the mistake they made years ago by spending it on ongoing expenses.

When federal grant money was available for police, they hired dedicated sheriff’s deputies to patrol the township but had to let them go when the money dried up.

“We got rid of the contract deputies and there was a little bit of an outcry of people saying that we don’t care about crime or anything else or having protection,” McGuire said. “We just can’t do that again you’ve got to be careful about that.”

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