County gets $3M in virus aid
LISBON — The cities, villages and township in Columbiana County and county commissioners will receive a combined $3 million in federal funds to help local governments with coronavirus-related expenses.
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in April in response to the pandemic. Ohio’s share was $4.6 billion, with $2 billion earmarked for local governments. Of the $2 billion, $775 billion is going to counties with population greater than 500,000 — Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Summit, plus the city of Columbus, the state capital.
The rest is for the remaining local governments, but the bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine distributes only $350 million at this time.
County Auditor Nancy Milliken said her office had received the $3 million last week, with $1.5 million going to commissioners and the rest to be be distributed among the 13 cities and villages and 18 townships based on population. She said each local government is required to adopt a prepared resolution before its share will be wired to them.
“Thus far only a few have submitted resolutions,” Milliken said.
County Commissioner Mike Halleck served on the County Commissioners Association of Ohio committee that lobbied the legislature to distribute the money based on Local Government Fund formulas adopted by each county’s for the annual distribution of state LGF funds among local governments. He said state Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem, and state Sen. Mike Rulli, R-Salem, provided invaluable support.
“Our association, and most commissioners around Ohio … felt we had a better handle on where the money should go and how it should be spent, and this was probably the fairest way to do it as well,” Halleck said.
Under state law, commissioners are entitled to half of all LGF funds received from the state. The majority of cities, villages and townships adopted a plan that distributes the remaining 50 percent among each other on a per capita basis. The amounts range from $125,980 for Salem, as the county’s largest city, to $19,528 for Summitville, population 135.
As mentioned above, the money can only be spent on coronavirus-related expenses, such as masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPEs), disinfectant and emergency personnel expenses. It cannot be used to cover budget shortfalls due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.
“They just have to be accountable … Everyone is responsible for how they spend their money,” Halleck said.
The state auditor’s office will audit local governments to make sure it was spent properly. Unencumbered funds are to be returned to the county treasurer’s office by Oct. 15, with county auditor responsible for redistributing the funds among local government funds. All unspent funds have to be returned to the state by Dec. 28.
Halleck said the county will seek reimbursement for the purchase of personal protective equipment, disinfectant services, plexiglass windows installed in county buildings, and the like.
Commissioners are also considering spending some of its money to rehabilitate the minimum-security wing of the county jail. This is the oldest part of the jail complex and it once served as a county nursing home before being converted. The building is more than 50 years old and fallen into disrepair.
Halleck said they intend to eliminate most of the nursing home rooms and turn it into a barracks-style sleeping area. This arrangement is not only better from a security perspective, it gives them the flexibility to isolate infected inmates should the need arise. No inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus yet.
“As long as it is spent on health and safety, and you can make an argument that jail falls into that category,” he said.
When the pandemic struck, the county Emergency Management Agency soon ran out of storage space for the PPEs it began to stockpile. Commissioner Tim Weigle has suggested using some of the money to build a small storage facility in the EMA parking lot that can be used to store PPEs in the future, and Halleck said the idea makes sense.
The following is how much in federal money each local government received:
Cities and Villages
East Liverpool $116,319
East Palestine $59,662
New Waterford $29,180
St. Clair $87,981
Yellow Creek $37,074