SOUTHERN INDIANA — Local governing bodies in Clark and Floyd counties have been awarded more than $10 million in federal pandemic relief funding, but officials are proceeding cautiously when it comes to spending the money.
The CARES Act approved by Congress includes $150 billion for the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The CRF money is designated to help local and state governments in “navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The department lays out specific guidelines for use of the money. CRF funding can be used to cover necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency not accounted for in budgets approved as of March 27. The expenses must be incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.
The specific funding allotments for local and state governments were announced earlier this month.
More than $1.5 million has been earmarked for Jeffersonville, but Mayor Mike Moore said the city will only use what’s needed to replenish the rainy day funds that were set aside to foot pandemic-related expenses.
“We’re grateful for the assistance. When we set up this fund to deal with the coronavirus we moved $500,000 over from the rainy day fund with the anticipation that the State of Indiana would be declaring a state of emergency, and we wanted to be able to recoup those funds,” Moore said, adding that as of Tuesday, Jeffersonville had spent about $350,000.
“I’m confident there’s going to be additional funds used for the city to deal with this, but I do not anticipate us using that full $1.5 million and we will gladly return a lot of the funds that have been provided.”
The bulk of the expenses incurred by Jeffersonville have been to buy personal protective equipment for first responders, footing sanitation costs for cleaning municipal buildings and for funding additional workload at the Clark-Floyd Landfill, as Moore said the tonnage at the facility has doubled during the pandemic.
Clark County government has been designated to receive more than $3.8 million.
Floyd County government garnered a little more than $2.5 million from the CRF. Floyd County Council President Brad Striegel said many departments have been affected by COVID-19 from changes in the primary election to overtime for first responders and repurposing of health department staff to perform testing.
“We are doing our due diligence to keep track of all of that so we can turn it in by department,” Striegel said.
In addition to the CRF funding, Striegel said the county may seek reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for some of its pandemic-related expenses. Those costs could stack up quickly, which is why having the federal relief is critical, he continued.
“It’s very important considering that some towns, municipalities and county governments are going to have a cash flow issue depending on how bad the budget shortfalls end up being,” Striegel said.
New Albany received a $1.187 million designation in CRF funds. Mayor Jeff Gahan said Tuesday city officials are reviewing how the money can be spent. The city has spent less than $100,000 on COVID-related expenses.
“We certainly appreciate knowing that we have relief available to us, but at this point, it doesn’t look like, unless the situation gets a lot worse, that our numbers will reach that point,” Gahan said, though he emphasized it’s too early to know how much the city will ultimately spend and that New Albany will continue to track its costs.
“Our plan right now is to continue to purchase PPE and sanitizer, and make sure we are communicating clearly to the public that the measures we’ve taken so far have helped us flatten the curve.”
In Charlestown, Mayor Treva Hodges has submitted a list of possible uses to the Indiana State Board of Accounts for the $268,439 allotted to the Clark County town. Hodges said Charlestown officials are “very excited” about the federal funding, but she wants clarification from the state before using the CRF money.
“Our budget is so tight that I can’t take the chance to spend it in advance and hope it would be reimbursed,” Hodges said.
But she emphasized there are needs in Charlestown that could be met with the funds.
Better communication equipment for police, added technology to facilitate employees working from home and help with a meal delivery service for shut-ins are some of the avenues related to the pandemic that Hodges has proposed using the federal funding to cover.
The funds could also help pay for PPE for businesses and residents, but Hodges said she will wait to hear back from the state before finalizing a plan.
“These would be things that we really need to do but we haven’t done yet because we didn’t have the money,” she said.
Beyond normal budgetary struggles, Striegel warned that the financial effects of the coronavirus could cause problems for government agencies for the next few years.
Striegel said payroll levies collected this year won’t be paid out until 2022, and with tax receipts expected to be down, that could mean problems for an extended period of time.
“So any kind of money that we can recoup now helps us in the long run to plan for the future as far as cash flow,” he said.