More funds coming: Butler County governments getting boost for coronavirus response

Medical assistant Carrie Bowman with Centerpoint Health on Breiel Boulevard in Middletown, shows a COVID-19 test kit outside the office Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Centerpoint Health will be on location at Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center at 800 Lafayette Ave. in Middletown for testing today, June 17, 2020. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Caption
Medical assistant Carrie Bowman with Centerpoint Health on Breiel Boulevard in Middletown, shows a COVID-19 test kit outside the office Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Centerpoint Health will be on location at Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center at 800 Lafayette Ave. in Middletown for testing today, June 17, 2020. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Butler County governments that are suffering financially due to the coronavirus pandemic are expected to receive $10.7 million collectively from federal coronavirus relief funds.

A list released by state Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., shows the county will get the largest chunk with $3.3 million. The next largest jurisdictions, Hamilton and West Chester Twp. will get $1.25 million and $1.16 million. The smallest allotment, $4,428, will go to College Corner. The disbursements are based on the local government funding formula.

Late last Thursday night, the state legislature passed a $350 million coronavirus relief bill that will help pay for many expenses local governments have incurred dealing with the coronavirus.

When the federal government approved the $2 trillion CARES Act in late March, local governments were largely left out of the relief funding. In Ohio, only governments with populations higher than 500,000 — Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery and Summit counties and the city of Columbus — were eligible. Butler County has about 400,000 residents.

RELATED: Butler County might ease budget cuts caused by coronavirus

The funds are restricted to cover expenses incurred as a result of the coronavirus, like the purchase of personal protective equipment and installing Plexiglas shields. The county administrative office has spent about $90,000 on items like these.

The bigger impact is lost revenue like sales and property tax because of stay-at-home orders and unprecedented unemployment. County Administrator Judi Boyko is anticipating a possible $20 million general fund revenue loss, although she tempered her prediction a bit this week after healthier than expected sales taxes rolled in for March.

Help could be on the way. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, has introduced a bill that would relax restrictions and allow governments to use the federal funds to shore up lost revenues.

“I’m hopeful that this bill helps states bridge the gap as they grapple with the fiscal strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” Davidson said. “I know that Ohio’s needs differ greatly from other states and that governors and mayors across the country have a better read on the needs of their citizens than we do in Congress.”

Gov. Mike DeWine has not signed the local funding bill yet because he had not received it yet as of Wednesday morning, according to Press Secretary Dan Tierney, but he supports the bill and Davidson’s latest offering.

Coley told the Journal-News that he and his colleagues at the Statehouse lobbied for the Davidson bill because of how helpful replenishing those lost revenues would be.

“It’s one of those deals that when the law was crafted it was clearly designed to allow them to recoup expenses,” Coley said. “But in addition to expenses they have a tremendous drop in income coming in. So we had asked Congressman Davidson and our delegation to at least consider allowing governments to replace lost revenue.”

Davidson said there will be hurdles to passing the bill. He had hoped to include it in another bill, but it took too long to draft.

“This one, there really aren’t people that are truly opposed to the principle of it, so can we just get a vote on this as a standalone bill is my base ask,” Davidson told the Journal-News. “So far it’s not been well received. We all know Congress is broken and this is an example and it has nothing to do with the merits of the bill, it has to do with positioning that House leadership wants to do next.”

He is hoping when they return to session later this month it will garner support as part of the next phase coronavirus relief.

“I am confident that some version of this will actually happen,” he said. “Next week and first week of July we could take this bill up under suspension and get it across the finish line.”

Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer has asked the commissioners for $269,000 to hire two new nurses. The commissioners approved the request on Monday. The sheriff’s department also has had expenses, but so far the office has been able to get other grant funding to cover an estimated $143,000.

Boyko said if the Davidson bill is enacted it will be welcome relief.

“Although Butler County entered the COVID-19 pandemic in a better position financially than many of our county peers, the virus impacted all levels of government and its ability to deliver services,” Boyko said. “Having the opportunity to apply CARES Act funding with fewer restrictions will allow the Board of Commissioners to utilize it in the best interest of the residents and corporate citizens of the county.”

The other jurisdictions have similar needs. West Chester Twp. Finance Director Ken Keim said he has been tracking every expense tied to the pandemic and while he doesn’t have a total yet it could be sizable, especially hours worked by the fire department, which has taken the lead in preparations for dealing with the crisis.

“I’ve got all those records I just haven’t quantified it, so there’s potential” for hefty costs, Keim said. “But we don’t count on any of it until we receive it. Whatever the plans would be with any legislation that’s passed we’ll comply with the constraints they put on us.”

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