Townships might be cut out of $5.3B in new relief funding

Sugar Creek Twp. EMS Firefighter, Kaitlyn Holbrook cleans out one of two ambulances at the Firehouse on Clyo Rd. Wednesday March 31, 2021. The township installed UV sanitizing equipment then purchased through the CARES Act funds now fears the state's 1,308 townships may be cut out of any assistance due to muddled wording in the American Rescue Plan.
Sugar Creek Twp. EMS Firefighter, Kaitlyn Holbrook cleans out one of two ambulances at the Firehouse on Clyo Rd. Wednesday March 31, 2021. The township installed UV sanitizing equipment then purchased through the CARES Act funds now fears the state's 1,308 townships may be cut out of any assistance due to muddled wording in the American Rescue Plan.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Ohio’s more than 1,300 townships might be cut out of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan due to muddled wording in the final bill, leading to a bipartisan effort of the state’s congressional delegation to change that.

Due to “sloppy bill drafting language,” the package signed by President Joe Biden doesn’t guarantee townships relief funding, said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who met with area township officials Wednesday to discuss the problem.

“We see this as a terrible injustice and really an equal protection under the law issue,” said Barry Tiffany, Sugarcreek Twp. administrator.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have written to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking her to clarify funding eligibility for townships, a decision the legislation puts in her hands.

“This discretion has led to confusion and concern among local towns and townships about their eligibility for direct support,” wrote Ohio’s Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. “We urge you to use your discretion to interpret this section the fullest extent practicable so that townships receive all the support Congress intended them to receive.”

At issue is the definition of a “nonentitlement unit of local government” that was inconsistent between the U.S. House-passed version of the bill and the law as enacted, which makes it unclear if townships are included, said Heidi Fought, Executive Director of Ohio Township Association.

“We’re not sure,” said Fought, whose organization also wrote Yellen.

Townships often provide the same services as cities, Fought said, including police, fire and emergency medical services, along with maintaining roads, parks and cemeteries.

The U.S. Department of Treasury did not respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment for this story.

Ohio’s townships got $177 million in the first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, and subsequent coronavirus allocations. Now local governments in Ohio are set to receive about $5.3 billion of the state’s $11.1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds. But the state likely doesn’t have the ability to divvy that money up to include townships, Turner said.

“There is some concern on the state of Ohio’s part as to what authority they would have,” Turner said. “I truly believe that the secretary of treasury will step in and will provide additional assurance.”

Turner said clarifications have occurred in previous relief bills that have “always been on the side of greater participation.”

“Hopefully we’ll get a positive result,” said Turner, who voted against the relief bill along with every other Republican in Congress.

The $1.9 trillion bill “was completely irresponsible” with less than 10% of the total going to direct COVID-19 relief, Turner said.

“However, once the federal government has decided to spend money, we need to make certain that we get our fair share,” he said. “And getting our fair share means including these townships and all of the people that live there.”

CARES Act funding of roughly $400,000 allowed Sugarcreek Twp. to purchase personal protective equipment to keep employees safe. Funds also went to install touchless entry systems and purchase an ultraviolet system to sanitize ambulances after patient transports.

While Sugarcreek Twp. is not in immediate financial danger, Tiffany said ongoing expenses related to the pandemic could cripple the township’s books in the future without new assistance.

Tiffany said $1.8 million for the township — as specified in the House bill — would “go a long way over the next four years to ensure that we can continue to provide essential services to the community and at the same time make sure our employees are safe.”

John Morris, Miami Twp. trustee president, said the township has been impacted financially due to the large number of hotels and restaurants that saw business plummet.

“That’s why it’s very important that we can get this explicitly spelled out that the townships are included and are important,” said Morris, who is also president of the Montgomery County Township Association.

Townships need equal footing, Harrison Twp. Administrator Kris McClintick said.

“Our citizens paid the same state and federal taxes as family members who live in municipalities,” he said. “It’s really just an equitability issue.”

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