Mysteriously left off list, Butler County townships still fighting for share of $350 billion stimulus funds

Federal and state lawmakers are trying to help get Ohio townships a slice of $350 billion allocated in the American Rescue Plan for local governments.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law March 11, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. States, counties, cities and villages were part of the allocation plan. Townships were excluded from the funding mix.

More state and federal lawmakers are lining up to try and convince U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to interpret the language in the new law to mean Ohio townships are included. The townships were included in the version that passed the House but there was definition change for “non-entitlement unit of local government” that apparently changed the funding formula in the version Biden signed.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, met with officials from throughout the region on Wednesday to hear their concerns. Townships often provide the same services as cities, including police, fire and emergency medical services, along with maintaining roads, parks and cemeteries, said Heidi Fought, executive director of Ohio Township Association.

Turner, who voted against the bill, told officials we would work get townships included.

“Once the federal government has decided to spend money, we need to make certain that we get our fair share,” he said. “And getting our fair share means including these townships and all of the people that live there.”

ExploreTownships left out of $147 million federal COVID-19 relief windfall for Butler County

Butler County communities were allocated an estimated $147 million, including nearly $75 million for the county government. Other payments to local governments range from $36.2 million for Hamilton to $10,000 for tiny Jacksonburg.

The 13 townships get none of that funding in the current plan, but in a document released after the House passed the measure, township estimates were included. Ross Twp. was targeted either $1.6 or $2 million in funding, depending on the calculation.

Township Board President Tom Willsey said “for the federal government to overlook that is kind of disheartening to me.”

“It’s one of those things where we do so much with so little for so long that they expect us to do everything with nothing,” Trustee Board President Tom Willsey said. “Township government is a vital cog in everyone’s every day life... Our expenses are the same as everybody else.”

The restrictions in the ARP are not as strict as the rules for the federal CARES coronavirus relief that was distributed last year at the height of the pandemic.

Now the townships are battling for funds. Liberty Twp. was penciled in for $7.3 to $8.8 million before the final bill passed.

“Municipalities, cities, states are going to be stretching this thing to spend money on stuff that is grossly unrelated to COVID,” Liberty Trustee Steve Schramm said. “It’s just going to be windfall cash to spend on whatever. So I guess if I’m selfish I ought to say great, can’t we come up with something for Millikin Road. I don’t know how to play this as a conservative any longer, because it’s just ludicrous.”

At this point the ball is in Yellen’s court. When jurisdictions were having a tough time spending all their money from the $2 trillion CARES act within the constraints of that legislation, the Treasury relaxed the rules and allowed some of the money to be spent on salaries of governmental employees who are “substantially dedicated” to battling the virus.

Jurisdictions are still sorting through exactly what the restrictions on the new money are but there are two distinct prohibitions. States can’t use it to shore up failed pension systems or for offsetting tax cuts.

Ohio Sen. George Lang told the Journal-News while they are working with federal lawmakers to solve the township exclusion problem, some in the state legislature are considering eschewing the $11.2 billion it might receive.

“There’s a chance we in Ohio won’t accept any of it because there is another string attached to it, that said if you accept any of this money you cannot lower taxes,” Lang said. “We have been working on a tax decrease for all citizens of Ohio behind the scenes for a bout six months.”

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