After nearly a year, the Cole County Commission is nearing the end of allocating the first round of federal funds to help with costs and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cole County received just more than $9 million in May from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners approved spending $164,814 in remaining CARES Act funds. The money was used for internal expenses and included:
- $146,271 to help pay for extra time employees at the Cole County Health Department have been working during the pandemic in January and February.
- $7,405 for COVID-19 vaccine supplies and storage.
- $5,688 for radios to be used by bailiffs at the Cole County Courthouse.
- $4,336 for computers and technology upgrades at the Prenger Juvenile Center.
- $1,114 for a barrier to be placed at the Cole County Recorder of Deeds Office.
Along with paying county government costs, CARES Act money went to help public and private schools, municipalities, small businesses, nonprofit organizations and health organizations. These entities went through an application process with the county, which used a private firm to help set up qualifications to receive money.
That private accounting firm, Springfield-based BKD, found the expenses that were brought forward to the commission Tuesday qualified under the CARES Act.
Cole County Auditor Kristen Berhorst said they plan to have their final report on CARES spending by the end of the month.
The county will continue to have BKD help them as they prepare to go through the second round of federal COVID-19 relief with the American Rescue Plan Act. President Joe Biden signed the bill last month which included $65.1 billion in direct aid to every county in America.
Berhorst said they have yet to receive an official confirmation of an amount, but the National Association of Counties estimated Cole County will receive $14.8 million.
This money can go toward emergency rental assistance, homeowner assistance and other housing programs to help families pay rent, mortgages and utilities; small-business assistance, including specific programs for restaurants and live venues; and support for health care workers, transportation workers, federal employees and veterans.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury will oversee and administer the payments to state and local governments, and every county will be eligible to receive a direct allocation, according to NACO.
Municipalities and counties will receive funds in two disbursements — 50 percent this year and the remaining 50 percent no earlier than 12 months from the first payment, according to NACO. The U.S. Treasury is required to pay the first portion to counties by 60 days after enactment and the second portion no earlier than 12 months after the first payment. All relief funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.
BKD officials told commissioners Tuesday it appears the rules for funding in the APR may not be as restrictive as they were in the CARES Act, which could mean more entities qualifying for funds. They also said the last information they had was that the first round of funds from the ARP could come next month.
Cities would receive ARP money directly and would not have to go through an application process as they did to receive CARES Act funding.
Jefferson City is expected to receive more than $7.6 million, according to information released by the Missouri Municipal League. Expected amounts to be received by area towns include: Centertown, $52,861; Lohman, $30,575; Russellville, $151,402; St. Martins, $220,104; St. Thomas, $9,914; Taos, $212,368; and Wardsville, $287,332.
Following a closed session at Tuesday's meeting, the commission approved signing an agreement in a discrimination case filed by a former sheriff's department employee.
County Attorney Jill LaHue said the county's insurance company, Travelers Insurance, reserves the right to settle such cases and found it would be cheaper to pay the $5,000 Amber Duenkel was seeking than the estimated $30,000 it would cost to defend the lawsuit.
The November 2020 lawsuit alleged sexual harassment and discrimination in connection with Duenkel's dismissal. Under the agreement, the county makes no admission.
LaHue said Travelers is not a party to the agreement, but they are paying for the county's defense, per the county's policy.