Townships now included in federal coronavirus relief money after months of confusion

Some Butler County township leaders say they were relieved to finally get some of the millions of dollars in federal monies designed to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. After months of uncertainty, more than 1,300 of Ohio’s townships - including Liberty Twp whose central office is pictured - are now assured part of $422 million in American Rescue Plan funds sent to the state. (File Photo\Journal-News)
Some Butler County township leaders say they were relieved to finally get some of the millions of dollars in federal monies designed to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. After months of uncertainty, more than 1,300 of Ohio’s townships - including Liberty Twp whose central office is pictured - are now assured part of $422 million in American Rescue Plan funds sent to the state. (File Photo\Journal-News)

Some Butler County township leaders said they were relieved to finally get some of the federal monies designed to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

After months of uncertainty, more than 1,300 of Ohio’s townships are now assured part of $422 million in American Rescue Plan funds sent to the state.

A bill Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed last week also released funds to the state’s smaller cities and villages, which were not included in direct relief funds released from the U.S. Treasury earlier this year to counties, along with cities and townships with populations over 50,000.

One of Butler County’s largest townships was also among the biggest recipients of federal funds as Liberty Twp. will receive a little more than $2 million each of the next two years.

“We’re going to protect our residents as best as we possibly can,” Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic said Wednesday as she cited fire protection equipment, water and sewer repairs and improvements and infrastructure needs as top priorities for the federal grant.

The township’s annual operating budget is more than $27 million.

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The pandemic may be waning now but concerns about a new, possible wave of coronavirus variants means “we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Matacic, who was part of a Governor’s committee to study and recommend local government responses to the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan funds would have been made available earlier, said Ohio Township Association (OTA) officials if not for an error in the eligibility process.

Townships in Ohio have finally and rightfully been confirmed for direct ARP funding as true units of local government, OTA officials said in a released statement.

“We are ecstatic that townships in Ohio are now eligible for direct ARP funds. Congress’s intention was to provide funding relief to local governments. With townships providing essential services to four million Ohioans, they desperately need these funds, just like cities and villages,” said Heidi M. Fought, OTA Executive Director.

“Though it was discouraging to learn in May that Ohio townships are not considered ‘strong-minor civil divisions’ and therefore were not automatically eligible for direct ARP funds, we are heartened that our state’s leadership has recognized townships’ rightful designation as NEUs (non-entitlement unit of local government).”

The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package signed in March by President Joe Biden included assistance for local governments to cover revenue losses, boost public infrastructure and assist households, workers and businesses hurt by the health crisis.

According to the OTA statement: “After months of uncertainty, with townships unintentionally left out of original ARP bill language – due to definition inconsistencies for NEUs – it was announced by the U.S. Treasury in May that Ohio was one of eight states in which the state itself would determine ARP eligibility and the definition of NEUs.

“In June, township eligibility was placed into first SB 111 and then HB 168; after signature of HB 168 by Gov. DeWine, townships in Ohio have finally and rightfully been confirmed for direct ARP funding as true units of local government.”

Fairfield Twp. is scheduled to receive the next highest amount, after Liberty Twp., among Butler County townships with $2.4 million in federal funds during the next two years.