Crawford County Emergency Management Director Lesa Mizell spoke to a full room at the commission meeting on June 9, held in the sheriff’s office conference room. Attendees included representatives from area political subdivisions that will be eligible to apply for a portion of the $2.8 million in CARES Act funding received by the county.
Mizell was appointed by the county commission to serve as chair of the required committee to oversee the allocation of the funding. Other appointees to that committee include local Certified Public Accountant Darrell Layman, attorney Bill Lange, and Commissioner Jared Boast.
Mizell gave an overview of the program. She told those gathered that every county in the United States had been given the opportunity to apply for this federal funding and that 62 percent of counties had done so.
“Everybody who is a political subdivision gets to be part of this,” she said, but added the warning, “This won’t be an easy process.”
The funding must be expended by December 30. At that point, any remaining money must be returned to the state, then to the federal government.
Funds can’t be used to supplement revenue, and any expenses must be COVID-19 related. Mizell gave some examples of what could potentially be funded. She noted local school districts could apply for funds to help with expenses related to continuing educational opportunities after the closure of schools, and fire and emergency medical service departments could apply for funds to pay for additional special equipment they wouldn’t already have purchased.
“Every penny that’s going to a political subdivision has to be COVID-19 related,” she emphasized. “If it is not used properly, it will have to be returned.”
Political subdivisions who wish to receive a portion of the funding will be required to complete an application, and Mizell noted, “It will be lengthy.” She told those present the applications would be emailed out the following week.
The local CARES Act committee members will review each application to determine who will receive funds. That determination must follow federal guidance that has been issued, but Mizell noted those instructions had been brief. “Please be patient with us,” she asked.
She encouraged all of the entities who had expended funds for COVID-19 related needs to apply for a portion of the CARES Act funding. She noted the county wants to try to help the local political subdivisions recoup those costs.
Mizell also explained why Crawford County had decided not to utilize an outside entity to assist with the application process. She noted the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) had offered to help, but would charge a fee of a percentage of the funding to do so. “Our county and Pulaski County chose not to,” she said. “Why? Because we thought we could use those funds in Crawford County.”
Following her presentation, the floor was opened to questions from those present.
County Clerk John Martin asked if a portion of the funding could be utilized to pay for the federal audit that would be required of the county as a result of receiving the CARES Act funds. That cost is $25,000. Mizell reported that question had been asked, and the answer was yes, that would be considered a COVID-19 related expense.
Cuba Schools Superintendent Jon Earnhart asked if funds could be utilized for future purchases, for example, those needed to prepare for the upcoming school year. Mizell again replied in the affirmative, as long as they were COVID-19 related.
Steve Kimker, board member for Crawford County 911 Emergency Services, asked when funds would be disbursed to the entities. Mizell noted that was uncertain, but would probably occur “a couple of weeks after applications come in.” She noted the local committee did not plan to wait until the end of the year to disburse funds. “Our goal is to begin with the first round of applications, look at them, and start issuing checks,” she said.
Honor Evans, Crawford County Health Department director, asked about items what were already a budgeted line item, but would be increased as a result of COVID-19. Mizell replied that was a possibility, but would need to be investigated further.
“We understand there are high priorities,” she said, noting that included the hospital located in the county, schools, and other first-line personnel. “We’re going to try to help everybody as quickly as possible.” But she also noted the committee would be careful to try to follow the issued guidance to avoid having to go back to entities and ask for the money back.
She also noted the committee would ask follow-up questions of the entities on their applications, if needed, and not just throw them out.
Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders stressed the importance of documentation of the expenses, and spoke to the office holders present. “Don’t go out and spend a bunch of stuff and then find out COVID-19 isn’t going to cover it,” he said.
Mizell also noted COVID-19 funds could only be received by an entity once, so it is important to include everything on the initial application.
She concluded, “I promise we’ll do everything we can to get you funding as soon as possible. We have the best interest of the county at heart.”