County to distribute potential of $2.9 million to local governments in COVID-19 aid
Auditor says Local Entity Aid Coming, Extreme Restrictions Exist
County Auditor David Thomas reports that Ashtabula County received its allocation of Coronavirus Relief Funding totaling $2.9 million in COVID-19 emergency aid for eligible local governments on June 23. The auditor’s office began distribution of these funds to local entities who requested the dollars this week.
Thirty-eight cities, villages, and townships in Ashtabula County are eligible to receive a portion of these funds, with the largest portion going to the County and second largest the City of Ashtabula. According to Auditor Thomas, Ashtabula County will receive just more than $1 million and Ashtabula City is eligible for $789,000.
The funding comes from the federal CARES Act, enacted into law on March 27, which established a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund. Ohio’s H.B. 481, which was signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine on June 19, dictates that $350 million in relief funding provided to the state will be distributed to Ohio’s local governments through their county auditors.
“The more we dig into the restrictions involved in these funds, we are learning there is less flexibility and frankly, less aid we can use to reimburse than originally anticipated,” shared Thomas. “These funds are not going to replace, not even close, the loss in local revenues due to the economic shutdowns and market factors.”
Each entity’s legislative body must pass a resolution requesting the funds from the county auditor before they can receive their share of the distribution. Once a resolution is provided to the auditor’s office, the jurisdiction will receive its funds electronically. Thomas said his office already has received resolutions from about a dozen jurisdictions.
State and local governments are restricted in how they can use these funds and can only use them for unexpected expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency after March 1 of this year. These do not include already budgeted items, meaning much of the funding will go unspent and will be returned to the state.
For example, a city could use the funds to purchase and provide masks and hand sanitizer for its employees, but they could not use the funds to pay the salaries of those employees. Similarly, the funds cannot be used to make up for lost revenues resulting from the pandemic.
Thomas said the funds will be distributed in accordance with a formula established by the Ashtabula County Budget Commission each year. The same formula is used to allocate Ohio local government fund monies, although the Auditor’s Office has removed one classification of jurisdiction from the formula: the county and local park districts, which are not eligible receive relief aid.
The County and local governments have been paying attention to advisory opinions from the Federal Government and webinars from state agencies for how the aid can be spent.
“My office has been preparing to distribute these funds for weeks along with helping to educate our local governments on the allowed uses,” Thomas said. “Just like with many small businesses, there is a great need for local government aid. It is disappointing that many of our governments will be unable to use a vast majority of their eligible funding due to restrictions.”
Once a jurisdiction receives their funds, they have until October 15 to spend the funds appropriately, within federal guidelines. Any money left unspent at that time must be returned to the auditor’s office, who will then redistribute those extra funds to the jurisdictions that did spend the entirety of their original CARES Act distribution. This redistribution will be proportional to the population of those jurisdictions.
Funding is restricted upon its uses and will be subject to state audit in 2021.