Warrick County has plans to move forward to establish a grant fund with remaining CARES Act cash.
The Warrick County Council agreed to move forward with the plan to establish a grant fund with the remaining balance of funds left over from federal money appropriated to cover COVID-19 related expenses in their regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7. Warrick County Attorney Todd Glass told the council that more than $1.8 million was recently received by the county as the Warrick County Commissioners approved a resolution to receive the funds and establish a grant fund in December.
Glass told the council that the county had received more than $100,000 in CARES Act funds as they were distributed by the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA), but the agency shifted near the end of the year forcing the county and other agencies to take action. He said the county had already submitted requests for funds when the state halted the established process of counties requesting the funds from the state.
In addition, Glass said the grant will make funds available to county offices and departments, township libraries, nonprofit organizations and small businesses and employers in Warrick County. While the funds will be made available, agencies and businesses will have to submit requests for the funds that will have to be approved by the commissioners and are also reported to the council.
“This is a process I think, in talking with Commissioner Phillippe, Saylor and Johnson, they think is rather fast paced and keeps things moving,” he said.
However, council members and other officials had some concerns about the plan.
Warrick County Council member Ted Metzger said he has concerns about putting the entire amount available into the grant. He said if the funds have to be applied for, the county could choose to put a smaller amount into the fund and add as needed.
Metzger said allowing the council to control the money that is available in the fund would give more control to the council instead of leaving the council out of the approval process. As the county’s fiscal body, he said the council should work to stay in control of spending.
“This situation cuts the fiscal authority of the county completely out,” he said. “It’s a good program and I’m behind it. I understand it, but I just feel like the council’s losing a little bit of control here.”
Council president Greg Richmond clarified that the grant will be organized by a committee that will have one council representative which means the council won’t necessarily be wholly left from the decision making process. Glass said the plan was reviewed by both the IFA and the Indiana State Board of Accounts before it was presented and approved by the commissioners.
“Both the Indiana Finance Authority and the State Board of Accounts were very impressed with it,” he said. “Warrick County did a much better job than most other counties at keeping track of those expenses and making sure they were being applied appropriately.”
However, Warrick County Auditor Debbie Stevens argued against the plan and insinuated that she may have gotten other indications about whether or not the county’s plan is allowed by the state’s code and other regulations. She said the money has already been deposited into the county’s general fund and shouldn’t be considered CARES Act funds anymore.
“I think we’re trying to muddy the appropriations waters with something that took place in 2020 with CARES Act money and that money is over,” she said during the council meeting last week. “We do not have CARES Act money in the 2021 budget. So, anything that is being given to spend is general fund money and it should be appropriated by the council as that.”
Richmond pushed back on that idea and noted that regardless of the current status, the funds were designated originally to cover COVID-19 related expenses and should still be dedicated to those expenses. He said the county didn’t spend the full amount in 2020 and this is the way the county can ensure the funds are spent and spent toward issues relating to the pandemic.
Plus, Richmond said the process to appropriate each expense individually wouldn’t be feasible.
“If we had to make an additional appropriation every time we would be in meetings half the night,” he said.
Stevens continued to push back and insinuated that adopting the plan for the grant wouldn’t be a legal process according to the state code noting that she had heard other indications from the State Board of Accounts that the county’s proposed plan would be considered illegal despite Glass and Warrick County Council Attorney Cliff Whitehead’s explanations that the county’s attorneys had presented the plan in full to leaders in the Indiana Finance Authority and State Board of Accounts receiving full approval. She said would only accept the plan if it is approved by Indiana State Board of Accounts head, State Examiner Paul Joyce.
“I have nothing that says that this is appropriate,” she said.
Later in the meeting, however, she said she had received no word from any agency on how the plan should proceed when she was confronted by Whitehead about her interactions.
“No, no I have not,” she said. “Not one thing has been shared with me outside of discussions I guess probably in the Commissioner’s meeting.
Ultimately, Richmond said he hopes the money can be spent instead of sitting in a fund.
“I want to see this money designated,” he said. “That’s what our federal government and legislators put it aside for.”
In the end, the Council approved the move, but required the attorneys to include a letter that shows in writing that the process is appropriate and legal according to the state. The motion passed 5-2 in the council with Metzger and council member Rick Reid voting against the move.
The Warrick County Council is scheduled to meet for a regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m.