Summit County is planning a $1M fund for payments to local families impacted by COVID-19
It’s harder to give away money than some might think.
Summit County anticipates receiving nearly $6 million in federal CARES Act funding but, because of federal regulations that prohibit a recipient receiving help more than once, staffers are finding it hard to get the money into the hands of citizens.
“The challenge is there’s such a great need but so many people aren’t eligible to take advantage of these opportunities,” Deputy County Manager Janna Young told the County Council on Wednesday. “So a lot of us who are trying to get this money out and spend it quickly can’t.”
Young outlined plans to spend a second, nearly $2 million outlay of federal relief funds to offset impacts of the pandemic. The county expects three total installments and faces a Nov. 30 deadline to spend the money.
In the weeks since the first $2 million was received in June, the U.S. Treasury Department has relaxed its standards for how the money can be used, notably allowing payments to individuals and families directly impacted by a loss of income related to the pandemic, according to a staff report that accompanied Young’s presentation.
Young had previously said those types of payments were barred when the money was first dispersed to states.
She recommended a $680,000 fund for direct payments to individuals in the community who have been impacted by the virus, which would be disseminated through a nonprofit.
County Councilor Roger Armstrong suggested boosting that amount to $1 million, which Young said is now the goal.
“I’m pretty concerned about that assistance to individuals and families and question whether ($697,000) is going to be enough,” he said “… We’re starting to hear some noise about potential evictions.”
Young said that the county anticipates partnering with the Park City Community Foundation to help administer the grant program for local families in need. Details are still being negotiated about how one would apply for a grant and the criteria to receive one.
County staffers are charged with advising the council how to spend the federal relief money, which equals about 10% of the county’s annual operating budget. The council has not taken formal action on the plans but councilors have suggested changes to some goals, including buying more personal protective equipment and securing a facility for county residents to quarantine if infected.
Staffers have broad latitude to implement those changes and there have already been areas in which they have had to quickly adjust when some funding proved redundant.
When it was discovered that a separate federal grant to the county Health Department could cover some payroll costs included in plans for the first round of relief money, for example, $250,000 was diverted to pay for improvements at county facilities like touchless appliances in bathrooms and UV sanitization equipment.
Plans for spending the second tranche of money include offsetting personnel costs for employees who have been primarily dedicated to fighting the pandemic, improving technology to promote distance working and boosting WiFi signals near county buildings, purchasing more personal protective equipment and paying temporary workers for COVID-related duties.
That’s in addition to the $1 million in payments to local families.
Despite a county hiring freeze put in place to offset revenue deficits, there has been a flurry of job postings from the County Courthouse seeking temporary workers with contracts ending Nov. 30 with the termination of CARES Act funding. The jobs include communications and outreach staff; more in-house contact tracers; and extra hours for an incoming emergency manager and the next nursing director, as the current director is set to retire.
Officials also plan to spend $100,000 to bolster the livestock sale at the Summit County Fair, which is known as one of the best in the state and has traditionally brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in gross sales. Recipients of those funds are normally East Side youngsters who have raised the animal themselves and use the money for their post-high school plans.
One official reported that the livestock committee expects revenue to be halved this year, even as the county has taken steps to hold the sale virtually, including installing fiber optic cable at the fairgrounds to facilitate an online auction.
Other notable expenditures include preparations for a mass vaccination push in the coming months, with the county planning to purchase equipment like barricades for temporary clinics.
The county is expecting the second round of funding in August. The final installment is expected in October and staffers have noted the importance of having plans in place to spend the money before the November deadline rather than being forced to relinquish it to the state.
The bulk of the first round of money, received in June, is being used to aid local small businesses and nonprofits and to expand testing and contact tracing in the county, with the Health Department planning to hire 10 contact tracers and purchase rapid antigen testing machines.
The county has set aside $400,000 from the first payment for grants to local small businesses. That program will be administered by the Mountainland Association of Governments, according to Jeff Jones, the county’s economic development director. The association of governments is also administering the program to disseminate community development block grants, another pool of relief money from the federal government.
Jones reported that there have already been two rounds of more than $200,000 in funding from the community development block grants to local businesses who have been affected by the virus. He added that there are always more applications than there is money to go around and that, in the first round of funding, the program received around 60 applications more than it could fund.
He anticipated businesses would probably require assistance as long as the virus prevents full economic recovery.
“We’re going to see this need continue throughout probably the season and into the winter,” Jones said. “We’re really trying to buy one month at a time to prop these businesses up so we can get through to winter.”
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