Local Counties Plan For Nearly $8 Million In COVID-19 Relief Funds

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted May 27, 2020
Local governments in the tri-county area plan to use millions in state allocated coronavirus relief funds. But for some counties, the details of their spending plans are still in the works.

There were nearly $8 million in funds to be released to governments in the region, with New Hanover County receiving about $4.1 million, Pender County allocated $1.3 million and Brunswick County with $2.6 million, according to a state release.

Pender County Manager Chad McEwen said Wednesday that the county is working with its finance department to gather information about its COVID-19 related expenses and is asking the local municipalities within the county to do the same.

County officials plan to present a spending proposal from that information to county commissioners at their meeting Monday, he said. 

“We don’t want to over-obligate this money and then have additional money [spent] because we don’t know if this is going to be the only money received or how long [the pandemic] will be,” McEwen said, adding that the more the crisis continues, the more expenses will come in the form of personal protective equipment purchases, payroll and other related expenses.

Brunswick County itself is looking into using $2 million of its Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) allocation for various expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while it plans to allocate the remaining nearly $574,000 to municipal governments within the county with eligible projects, according to county documents.

County commissioners this month authorized the county manager to move forward with the application for the funds to the state. Submissions of eligible projects from municipalities are due by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The county must submit a plan of how it will use the funds to the state by June 1.

The local government's share is part of $150 million the state appropriated to local county governments through CRF.

The state received about $4.07 billion in the CRF, established through the overall $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Four of the state’s largest governments with a population of 500,000 or more have already received $481 million from the U.S. Treasury.

The state is awaiting applications to release the funds from Pender and Brunswick counties as of Tuesday, according to the state's Coronavirus Relief Fund payment status. New Hanover Couty was allocated funds last week. 

The county governments have control over the funds and are charged with distributing and recording funds allocated to local municipalities.

New Hanover County announced last week an approved plan for spending the nearly $4.1 million in funds, including reimbursement for its COVID-19 response, continued testing and a $1.3 million small business economic incentive grant program.

State officials said the funds must be spent by Dec. 30 and only be used for eligible expenses such as pandemic-related medical expenses of public hospitals and clinics, temporary facilities, testing and public telemedicine support, and also on public health expenses such as buying personal protective equipment, disinfectant and other supplies for various facilities, according to the state's release.

Other eligible expenses include actions that facilitate compliance with COVID-19 related public health measures such as teleworking, distance learning, food delivery, paid sick, family and medical leave for public employees, as well as economic support expenses related to the public health emergency.

The funds cannot be used by governments for damages covered by insurance, payroll or benefits for employees not substantially dedicated to responding to, or mitigating, the COVID-19 health emergency, or to reimburse for revenue losses, according to the state.

For New Hanover County, aid will also fund continued testing, cleaning and disinfecting, resources for the county’s aging adults, enhanced social distancing measures in facilities and additional municipal support.

The spending plan was approved by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners last week, but a section of the plan that allocates the $1.3 million for small businesses requires a public hearing, which is scheduled during the commissioners' upcoming meeting Monday.

The overall spending plan is moving forward and includes funding for municipalities, county officials said Wednesday.

About $401,000 in local municipal funds are set to be allocated by the county with nearly $307,200 to the city of Wilmington, plus $25,000 for the city's sheltering commitment to the homeless; nearly $19,700 to the town of Carolina Beach; more than $18,500 to Wrightsville Beach and more than $30,600 to the town of Kure Beach.

The city of Wilmington requested the funds to cover its COVID-19-related expenses including personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfectant and funding related to the city's police department's COVID-19 response task force, city spokesman Dylan Lee said last week.

When developing the plan for CARES Act funding, the county received estimates of COVID-19 spending from each of the municipalities. The expense amounts are subject to change depending on reconciliation of costs, county officials said.
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