HERMANN — Gasconade County government will be receiving more than $1.7 million for its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. However, because relatively little has been spent to fight the …
HERMANN — Gasconade County government will be receiving more than $1.7 million for its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. However, because relatively little has been spent to fight the virus, the vast majority of that money is expected to be returned to the federal treasury by the end of the year.
The County Commission last week learned that $1,725,307 will be allocated to the county — based on 2019 population — as its share of the $2.2 trillion in coronavirus relief approved by Congress and signed into law by the president several weeks ago. Missouri will receive $2.3 billion, which includes money for local governments. The money can only be used to offset expenses deemed eligible in the effort to protect the public against the virus.
Claiming the lion’s share of the money for county governments are St. Louis County at $173 million and Jackson County at $122 million. They were guaranteed funding as entities with a population of more than 500,000. Missouri’s other 112 counties and the City of St. Louis, which is treated as a county, received a share of $520 million.
While receiving the money, which could be available this week, is good news to Gasconade County administrators, the announcement carried with it some disappointing news, as well. They money cannot be used to cover the salaries of county employees who have been sent home for a week at a time by the various county government departments. A department’s employees have been given a week off on a rotating basis as a way to lessen the likelihood of the virus being spread among the Courthouse workers.
The County Commission had been hoping that the salaries of the Courthouse employees — who continued to be paid for their weeks at home — would have been covered by the federal funding for their time away from their respective offices. However, their furlough isn’t considered a direct expense incurred in the battle against the virus and, county officials noted, their pay already was included in their departments’ operating budgets for this year.
Thus far, Gasconade County has had only two positive tests for the coronavirus; both of those people have recovered from the illness.
The county has until Dec. 30 of this year to use the money. County officials Thursday morning pondered ways to take advantage of the federal dollars, such as purchasing hand sanitizer dispensing machines for the Courthouse. “We don’t have to spend it tomorrow,” said County Treasurer Mike Feagan. “We’ve got until December,” he added.
Another use of at least some of the dollars, according to County Clerk Lesa Lietzow, would be to purchase cleaning supplies for disinfecting polling places in advance of the upcoming elections. The General Municipal Elections, which include voting for mayors, aldermen and school board directors, normally held in April were pushed back to June 2 because of the coronavirus concerns. The county clerk’s staff faces a quick turnaround after the June voting in preparing for the Primary Elections in August and then the General Elections in November.
Lietzow said she feels cleaning the polling places is justified.
“I think they need to be cleaned and disinfected prior to June,” she told the County Commission.
Meanwhile, despite county government not being able to claim employee salaries as an eligible expense and having little to no other actual virus-related expenses,
Feagan did find a bright spot in the allocation of the money to Gasconade County: The county gets to keep the interest earned on the $1.725 million until it’s returned to the federal government at year’s end.
Here is a breakdown of the federal funding coming to the eight counties within the Meramec Region, along with each county’s estimated 2019 population:
• Gasconade: 14,706; $1,725,307.
• Crawford: 23,920; $2,806,239.
• Dent: 15,573; $1,827,024.
• Maries: 8,697; $1,020,332.
• Osage: 13,615; $1,597,311.
• Phelps: 44,573; $5,229,302.
• Pulaski: 52,607; $6,171,851.
•Washington: 24,730; $2,901,323.
Initially unclear to county administrators is whether the expense reimbursements that will be requested by Emergency Management Director Dan Dyer and the Gasconade County Health Department will come out of the $1.7 million allocated to county government or from some other funding containing federal relief money. While county administrators are dealing with the Missouri State Treasurer’s Office on this matter, Dyer — who has used funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) — is dealing with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).
The county’s health department appears to be requesting reimbursement separately from county government and possibly through the state health agency.