Nearly half of county’s COVID-19 aid to pay front-line salaries

Roughly $47.5 million — or 46% — of Montgomery County’s $103 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation is earmarked to pay the salaries of eligible front-line public safety and health workers, according to a county spending proposal for the COVID-19 relief.

The county’s largest single allocation, $29 million, is set to go to the sheriff’s office over two years to pay jail staff who risk exposure to the coronavirus each day, said Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck.

“In this time of COVID and when there’s concerns about the budget, we have this money that’s available to help pay for salaries. So it’s saving general fund money for the entire county,” he said. “Anytime we can use other funding it always helps us out.”

Area counties and cities are receiving more than $590 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) aid and local government leaders including Montgomery County’s are making decisions now about how to spend the COVID-19 relief.

In addition to paying the salaries of vital front-line workers, Montgomery County has proposed using its $103 million to support the public health response across other county facilities and make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure while buttressing services to hard-hit communities and families.

The Sheriff’s Office fiscal officer is currently evaluating each position to identify which jobs can be funded with ARPA assistance, Streck said.

“A vast majority will be the sergeants assigned to the jail and the civilian corrections officers,” he said.

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This year, roughly $14.9 million from the county’s general fund is covering salaries and benefits for 174.5 jail positions while $747,263 from a state grant program foots those costs for nine positions, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Pandemic-driven overtime continues to eat into the jail department’s budget, Streck said.

“COVID has caused my overtime to go up because at the slightest symptom or positive test, we send our employees home for two weeks,” he said. “It’s not like the common cold where somebody’s sick and three days later they’re back. They may be gone for 14 days and I’ve had people even over the last couple of months who’ve had to be in the hospital and be home.”

Another $18.5 million is proposed to cover eligible personnel costs for workers in the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, Coroner’s Office, Developmental Disabilities Services, Juvenile Court, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County and at the Stillwater Center.

The county’s spending plan also includes using more than $38 million of the aid for building improvements that are eligible under the American Rescue Plan, according to Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert.

“We’ve got an idea of what direction we’re going in. We still have some tweaks, but for the most part we’re going to be using it for capital outlays,” he said. “We’re going to be using it for a lot of infrastructure components.”

Eligible building projects include those that mitigate the spread of disease by improving air quality, replacing old plumbing fixtures to touchless systems and to meet other pandemic operational needs through new computers and audio and visual technology that supports virtual meetings or court proceedings.

“We’re just going floor by floor and evaluating what we can do with the ARPA, which must be COVID-related,” Colbert said.

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The American Rescue Plan aid will be used wholly to support Montgomery County’s government, unlike the $92 million in CARES Act assistance distributed by the county that went largely to individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations reeling from the pandemic, Colbert said.

“Different than the CARES Act, we’re not going to just push this out,” he said. “This is going to be more for the county internally to make the service better.”

The new aid will cover only a portion of the projects on the county’s wish list, but the funding gives the county new flexibility to update old infrastructure within its dated buildings, Colbert said.

One project on the table is the renovation of the three floors of the County Administration Building housing the Auditor’s Office. The projected cost to renovate all three floors will total $6-$7 million, but only about $1.35 million — the portion to update plumbing and air handling systems — is deemed allowable under the ARPA, Colbert said.

“We’re going to be able to use our (general fund) budget to build upon that,” he said. “That’s how we’re looking at each one of these.”

All 88 Ohio counties and 37 cities and townships are receiving the payments from a $350 billion state and local government portion of the $1.9 trillion relief plan.

Last week, the city of Dayton revealed the decision-making process and timeline and issued three funding opportunity notices for part of the city’s $138 million in relief funds.

ExploreWith $138M in COVID relief, Dayton announces funding opportunities

Colbert said the county pared down more than $200 million in requests from elected officials, agency heads and department leaders. With four years to spend the funds, the county has half the ARPA funds in the bank and will receive the remainder in about a year.

The Coroner’s Office has a need for additional room due to the addition of new forensic technologies as well as lack of morgue space, Colbert said. The coroner has been allocated $5 million.

“We’re trying to do an evaluation with the coroner to get his DNA operation, which is on the lower level, body storage and the CT machine, that’s in the rear, all under one roof,” he said.

Montgomery County allocated another $5 million to replace pandemic revenue losses from investments, the county’s lodging and casino tax as well as from various fines and fees.

The Treasury Department issued interim final rules for the state and local recovery effective May 17 and expects publication of final rules later this fall.

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