Consultant describes county’s use of pandemic funds – Times News Online – tnonline.com

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Published April 30. 2022 09: 00AM

by chris Parker [email protected]

Schuylkill County has spent a total of $261,784 in American Rescue Plan Act money between January and March.

An additional $284,000 in COVID medical expenses is already in the books for the second quarter, the county’s pandemic funds consultant told commissioners on Wednesday.

The county will receive a total of $27 million in ARPA funding. It received $13 million in July and expects the remainder by year’s end.

The U.S. Treasury’s rules for spending the money were finalized in January, said consultant Mark Morgan of Susquehanna Accounting and Consulting Solutions Inc., Harrisburg.

“So you got to do some activity and start to ramp up the program,” he said.

Morgan spoke about the three projects on which the money was spent.

Renovations to the Children and Youth Services Agency building in Pottsville cost $82,486.

The renovations improved social distancing in the public facilities and allowed the agency to spread out employees and the flow of traffic in the building to reduce the chance of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Another $45,725 was spent on a new vehicle for the coroner’s office that separates the driver from bodies being transported.

“This really mitigated the COVID transmission risk in handling corpses infected with COVID,” Morgan said.

“We are self-insured, and if we have a coroner’s office employee come down with COVID and have serious medical costs or hospitalization, $45,000 is a drop in the bucket,” he said.

Improvements to information technology security and remote workplace capabilities cost another $133,573.

Morgan also said the county will be getting $460,000 in additional CHIRP funding in the second quarter.

Finance Director Paul E. Buber said a budget adjustment to transfer the budgetary authority to extend the CHIRP program has been done.

Some qualified applicants didn’t receive funding because the money ran short, he said.

Commissioners adopted a resolution to that effect on Feb. 2.

“This is just moving the budgetary authority to the appropriate line item to be able to move forward with the project,” Buber said.

Also, $727,954 in ARPA funding was moved to the appropriate line item for Management Information Systems cyber security projects approved by commissioners on April 13 “so that we can account for the funds in accordance with the final rule established by the U.S. Treasury,” Buber said.

Commissioners’ Chairman Barron L. Hetherington applauded Morgan’s expertise in tracking and guiding the CARES and ARPA money.

He said the state Department of Community and Economic Development DCED commended the county for the accuracy and precision of its reports.

“Every ‘T’ was crossed, every ‘i’ was dotted, and everything was done properly. The accusations of money being mishandled or misused is not the case,” he said.

Morgan’s work has made sure the county doesn’t have to pay the money back to the federal government because it was not properly handled.

“My biggest fear is that, we want to help people as much as we can, but if we misallocate this money, it may have to be paid back. And if we don’t manage our budget and pay our expenses first, we’ll end up raising taxes,” Hetherington said.

Morgan said the U.S. Treasury has provided a $10 million exception for lost revenue for local governments.

Not only has revenue been lost, but future losses will be incurred because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy, he said.

“We’re seeing the inflation effects now, inflation is running rampant. You see it at the gas pumps and in the grocery stores,” he said.

“A lot of entities are still using a substantial amount of the ARPA money to help balance counties’ budgets so they don’t have to raise taxes,” Morgan said.

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