The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is moving ahead to make sure its $1.8 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding will be spent properly before its end-of-the-year deadline.

County CARE Funds

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a $2 trillion economic relief package designed to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses, and preserve jobs for our American industries, according to a statement on the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

Conditions on how the money can be spent, and the requirement to have funding fully documented in case of an audit, have required careful reporting, said Louise Kallstrom, director of finance for the county at a commissioner meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4.

The CARE funding is dedicated to be used for pandemic-related purposes, and there is specific criteria that the county must follow to be reimbursed by the federal government.

“What we’re talking about is high risk of using the money for what we’re using it for and low risk of using the money for what we’re using it for,” Kallstrom said. “There’s a couple of things on this list that are very high risk of, if we were audited, approved of the spending and there are several that are a lot safer.”

Some purchases, like the order for handheld foggers (disinfectant sprayers), are permitted under CARES Act rules, but the method of how they were purchased might cause them to be denied. They were not purchased under purchased order, the federal guideline for the funding, so it puts the purchase at risk of being denied by the act, Kallstrom said.

To be careful and make sure the projects will not be denied and the county can make the most of the funding it was allocated, Kallstrom has suggested moving around certain projects to be covered by marijuana tax fee money instead of CARES Act funding and replacing it with something guaranteed to be covered under the act.

Kallstrom suggested moving the county’s grant-matching contributions to a different account as well, due to a lack of information about exactly where the money is being granted— information Kallstrom would need to provide in case of an audit.

The grants are administered through Columbia Pacific Economic District and the Columbia County Economic Team (CCET). Paul Vogel, executive director of CCET, said he was under the impression Kallstrom had the information she needed.

Kallstrom suggested the grant funding project be covered through the marijuana tax money fund and the $100,000 allocated for it under the CARES Act be reimbursed for public safety costs, which she said is low risk to claim.

“We still have the project, I’m not saying we don’t have the project, but its just not funded by CARES dollars and I just don’t have to prove so much to anybody for the spending of that money,” Kallstrom said.

Commissioner Henry Heimuller said he would meet with Kallstrom and Vogel to sort out the documents.

How it’s been spent

The county has had $1,867,892 to spend, and until Dec. 31 to spend it. Projects have been updated and shifted as the deadline approaches. Below is the Nov. 4 breakdown of how the CARES Act funding has been allocated; not all projects have been completed and some projects may shift.

  • Telecommuning equipment ($50,000)
  • Webcam capabilities ($7,000)
  • Videoconferencing improvements ($40,000)
  • Phone system replacement ($270,000)
  • Fogger backpacks/disinfectant for the jail ($5,000)
  • Hand-held foggers and disinfectants ($8,987)*
  • Counsel/finance/human resources payroll costs ($49,925)
  • Election drop boxes ($11,400)
  • Bluebeam Software- electronic plan review ($26,325)
  • Portable VHF Radios for fairgrounds ($3,990)
  • Plastic panels for fairgrounds ($300)
  • Hand sanitizing stations for fairgrounds ($9,000)
  • Online marriage certificate server ($21,000)
  • HVAC upgrades to courthouse ($130,000)
  • Replace sink/toilet fixtures with non-touchables ($33,000)
  • Inmate tracking system ($52,000)
  • Cones and paint to mark distancing guides at the fairgrounds ($3,000)
  • Small business grant matching ($100,000)*
  • Personal protective equipment/cleaning/cell phones ($150,700)
  • Storage units ($20,000)
  • Public safety costs for July, August and September ($425,605)
  • Columbia Pacific Food Bank grant ($125,452)
  • Claim 1 and 2, claimed before July ($323,050)

*These projects may be shifted to be funded from other accounts, and the money will reimburse public safety staffing costs instead.

Of the allocated funds, $976,300.77 has been spent so far and two of the projects have been marked as completed.

CARES Act

The CARES Act was passed by Congress with overwhelming, bipartisan support and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. It is a $2 trillion economic relief package designed to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses, and preserve jobs for our American industries, according to a statement on the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

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