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Commissioners talk CARES Act fund disbursement

Warren County is going to receive $3.5 million in federal CARES Act COVID-19 relief funding.

With an end of 2020 deadline to spend the money, Monday’s work session focused on how those funds are going to be distributed.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin cautioned that these funds are “strictly for COVID-19 related activities.”

The funding, assigned by the General Assembly based on population, is set to arrive next week.

Kafferlin said they know they need to be careful as the funds come with “tons of red tape.” That was the impetus of a contract approved last week with the county’s auditing firm, that will “help us how to figure out what is eligible and what is not,” he said.

While there are many areas in which the funds can be utilized, the county will be breaking the funds into two parts “just to simplify things,” Kafferlin said.

$1 million to $1.5 million will be reserved for county projects – EMS and fire-related – as well as the COVID-19 related costs to the county’s municipalities.

“The rest is going to businesses and nonprofits,” he said.

Kafferlin said he is working with the county’s departments while commissioners Jeff Eggleston and Tricia Durbin are “working on hammering out the business and nonprofit side.”

Durbin explained that the county is “going to engage” with some outside firms who will review applications that come in from businesses and nonprofits.

“The bulk of this we really want to go into the local economy,” Eggleston said. “That’s the idea behind having business, small business and nonprofits reap the majority of the grant.”

He outlined a three round process – $1 million awarded in round one, which will help the commissioners “know what the level of need there is.”

He said the applications would be reviewed by an outside entity with the commissioners acting on those recommendations to disburse funds.

“I think that what’s important is businesses are able to show and share their loss of revenues and loss of business during the COVID period,” Durbin said, explaining that they are “really aiming” the funds toward businesses who have not received financial help through other programs.

With the deadline to spend the funds by the end of the year, the commissioners know they have a serious amount of work ahead of them.

Eggleston proposed developing “some type of rough proposal” for next week’s work session which details the framework for the disbursement process.

He expressed concern about what information businesses may need to supply – and to whom – in order to be considered for funding, calling for barriers so that the county and the public don’t have access to personal business data.

“I want it to be as transparent a process,” Eggleston said, but such disclosures “might be a barrier for some. (There are) going to be competitors that are going to be applying for the money.

“I think for the public trust, this is not going to be a political process,” he added. “We want to make it as objective, transparent and trustworthy as possible.”

Durbin acknowledged the board is “kind of making up the rules as we go.

“We just don’t want to misstep,” she said.

“The fundamental goal is to get aid to the people, a, who need it the most and, b, didn’t get any help. We really wanted to start there and work out.”

He noted there is a regulation that only businesses with under 100 employees are eligible for the funds.

“None of this funding is meant for replacement of revenue for the county,” he emphasized. “It has to be on budgeted expenses related to covid response.”

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