Greene County is expected to receive an additional $1.7 million this month in federal CARES Act funds, supervisors learned at their meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The county received the first $1.7 million in June from the $3.1 billion that came to Virginia of the $150 billion national fund approved in March.
Greene County Administrator Mark Taylor offered recommendations on spending options for the funds at the Aug. 25 meeting.
“The CARES Act expedited the appropriation of federal money out to localities to help mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and it came with a series of guidelines,” Taylor noted. “One of the touchstones of the guidance is expenditures of CARES Act funds must be for expenses that are due to the public health emergency.”
Taylor said the funds cannot be used for budgeted costs, though can be used for costs that are substantially different than expected. The expenses can only cover costs from March-December 2020.
Expenditures for Greene fall into three major need categories: personal protective equipment (PPE) and minor facility modifications; helping businesses; and space constraints due to social distancing.
Taylor said $50,000 was approved in fiscal year 2020 and $50,000 for fiscal year 2021 for the first need. Recently, the county approved $300,000 for business grants to help small businesses in the community deal with the financial fallout from the spring closures ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam.
“Space constraints mitigation is a larger issue,” Taylor said. “We have several work and public service environments that were either marginal or patently inadequate even before the pandemic.”
Taylor said $247,000 has been used to purchase four manufactured spaces for the registrar’s office, parks and recreation office and the general district and juvenile and domestic district courts.
“The registrar’s cramped mixed-use meeting room/file room/voting machine storage space really cannot be used safely as it is; additional space is a critical need for the registrar’s office and a particularly critical need this year with early voting and a presidential election,” Taylor said. “Our parks and recreation office is seasonally the largest customer traffic generator of the offices in our county administrator building. One of the opportunities that we’ve seen is locating a parks and rec office at the county park.”
Each unit is about 960 square feet and they’re being set up now.
An additional $30,000 is proposed for modifications to the circuit court to allow jury trials to safely proceed.
Greene County Public Schools (GCPS) Superintendent Andrea Whitmarsh in a letter dated Aug. 10 requested the county consider funding internet hotspots, equipment for virtual instruction, extra cleaning and markings required in the schools to meet public health advice, ventilation improvement for buildings, costs for extra personnel hours for online learning training and more. No funding totals were included in the letter.
GCPS is only eligible for $357,664.03 in CARES Act funds for a two-year span, the letter noted.
“Tracy Morris and I met this morning with Superintendent Whitmarsh and Kristie Spencer to review the information they provided last week and we continue to be challenged in some degrees with the, what I call, the CARES Act puzzle,” Taylor said Aug. 25.
Taylor said at this time, the costs for needs that the division foresees are $200,000.
“However, there is profound concern and uncertainty, as we all know, with the pandemic,” he said.
The school division, Taylor said, projects a $1.7 million end-of-year balance for fiscal year 2020, which by supervisor approval is set aside in a capital needs budgeted line item.
“It seemed to Ms. Morris and I advisable and reasonable that some portion of that year-end fund balance may be useable by the school division to meet COVID-related needs that they cannot, at this time point in time, necessarily foresee or even to fund the $163,000 worth of needs they can foresee and don’t have current funding for,” Taylor said.
The debt service on the school project completed in 2019 is roughly $1.5 million, which will be taken from that balance, he said.
Additionally, Taylor said the county has seen unexpected expenses from the emergency medical services (EMS) contract, EMS staff operations and public safety.
“I think the simplest way that I can try to describe this is to say that the basic citizen interaction that is had between a law enforcement officer or an EMT or firefighter (with an individual) has changed fundamentally since the pandemic,” Taylor said. “These are all expenses that are budgeted, but that are substantially different due to the public health mandates and therefore are found to qualify for CARES Act expenditure.”
Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith asked the supervisors Aug. 25 in matters from the public to consider offering hazard pay to deputies.
“According to the frequently asked questions, which were afforded to the Board of Supervisors, CARES Act funds may be used to meet payroll expenses for public safety whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said Tracy Morris, the county’s finance director. “We can actually use their entire salary. I agree that our public safety personnel payroll expenses are an allowed expense for the use of our CARES Act funds.”
Monroe Supervisor Steve Bowman asked if hazard duty pay is an acceptable use for the funds, as well.
“I don’t have a direct answer for that, Mr. Bowman, and I’m happy to seek that out if that’s something the board would like to discuss,” she said, “but currently (localities) tend to be using it for larger payroll expenditures.”
Taylor has proposed a modular EMS station at $1.4 million, as well, because he said the rescue squad building is not safe.
“There are serious issues with the rescue squad building and multiple significant problems,” Taylor said. “The board should note that the rescue squad building was not engineered, designed or intended to be a rescue squad facility when it was constructed. And however quaint that little building is, it is not a safe workspace for our Greene County EMS; particularly not given the current public health mandates and the safety standards.”
Stanardsville Supervisor Bill Martin, board chair, asked if such a purchase can qualify under the CARES Act guidelines.
“The general guidance first of all prohibits the acquisition of property,” Taylor said. “This is a matter of a unit to go on property” already owned.
Utilizing the CARES Act funding frees up about $1.2 million in the fiscal 2021 budget, he added, that would not have to be spent by the end of this calendar year.
“My personal opinion is to be patient on these displaced funds,” Martin said. “Let’s wait and learn a little bit more about where the pandemic goes, whether more resources are coming, what things look like toward the end of the year—we’ve all been thinking about needing to build our reserve. So, I would advise some patience on this. As for your other expenditures, they all sound very reasonable to me.”
Martin said if the county can purchase the modular EMS building with CARES Act funds, he supports that.
“Given that we’re starting up our own EMS unit and we have a building that is going to be condemned as our current rescue squad, if we have a way to move forward with that, sure,” he said. “I want to see the drawings and see the pictures and learn more about the budget, as well.”
Bowman, Midway Supervisor Marie Durrer and Ruckersville Supervisor Davis Lamb, all said they echo Martin’s advice for care in spending any displaced dollars.
“I really look for it not to be ended by December,” Durrer said of the coronavirus pandemic. “I would hope it would, but I don’t think it will. I especially would like to see something for this hazardous pay or whatever they want to call it, as well as for the schools.”
Martin asked that Taylor update the board frequently on the progress.
At-Large Supervisor Dale Herring was not present for the Aug. 25 meeting.
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