Catawba County’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money went toward the county’s public safety budget.
The county received $4.46 million in funding for COVID-19 response from the federal CARES Act last year. The money could be used for COVID-19 response, including the salaries of employees who were largely devoted to COVID-19 response. Each expense paid for with CARES money requires approval and paperwork.
So the county spent the money in one place — a portion of the 2020 salaries and benefits of the Catawba County EMS and sheriff’s department, Catawba County Manager Mick Berry said.
“We simply took EMS costs and sheriff’s department costs, and they specifically said salary and benefits were eligible, and we just submitted those costs,” Berry said.
From March to June 2020, EMS and the sheriff’s department salaries and benefits cost the county $7.4 million. The county was reimbursed for $4.46 million through the CARES funding, Berry said.
By submitting one big cost for reimbursement, the county stayed flexible with COVID-19 expenses, Berry said.
Departments weren’t required to track each expense related to pandemic response, or keep records of employee hours related to COVID-19, Berry said. Even early in the pandemic, Berry told departments not to worry about tracking those expenses.
“When COVID first broke out we ramped up and started our response with training and all the stuff that was going on. We knew in the back of our minds, we heard the rumblings, we knew there was going to be some money coming in, some reimbursement, but we didn’t worry about it,” Berry said. “I gave the directive to department heads, I said, ‘Don’t try to account for this, you’ll drive yourself crazy — just serve the community, do what we need to do to try to mitigate this thing the best we can, and whether its local dollars or dollars coming from the state or federal government, we’ll take care of your budget after the fact.’”
Berry suspects if the county had tracked each COVID-19 expense and submitted it for CARES funding reimbursement, it would have cost the county a lot of money just to put the paperwork together and track the expenses.
“You got COVID expenditures going on all over the place so that’s what you do, you draw down the $4 million and then you don’t have to try to account for all the money that’s spent,” Berry said.
The county’s public safety salaries were chosen for CARES funding over public health because public health had other grants and relief money coming in that public safety wasn’t eligible for, Berry said.
“We didn’t do public health because we knew public health was going to have other pots of money available to it,” he said.
Catawba County is looking at another large pot of money coming in from the federal American Rescue Plan Act passed this year. Catawba County government is looking to get $31 million from the act. No plans are lined up for the money until it’s clear what it can be used for, Berry said.
“At this point we’re just waiting to learn from the Treasury Department what those restrictions are going to look like,” he said.