Butler County commissioner to announce plans for $75 million COVID-19 relief

Butler County officials are getting close to public discussions on how best to spend the $75 million American Rescue Plan windfall.
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Butler County officials are getting close to public discussions on how best to spend the $75 million American Rescue Plan windfall.

Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter is finalizing due diligence on proposals for spending almost $75 million the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan, but one early contender has dropped out.

Carpenter has been canvassing the county seeking ideas for the best use of the enormous windfall the county will receive as part of President Joe Biden’s COVID relief and stimulus plan.

She said she is running some of the projects through policy officials at the County Commissioners Association of Ohio to make sure they are eligible under the federal guidelines for funding.

“I’m feeling that I’m on the home stretch,” Carpenter said about being ready to present the ideas to her fellow commissioners. “I just tried to get the unfunded projects across the county, countywide and fairly, but I have to come up with some creative ideas for the townships who didn’t get money. I want that to be part of the distribution.”

Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law March 11, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Treasury awarded direct allocations to states, counties and local units of government with 50,000-plus residents. The county received $74.4 million, and among municipalities Hamilton received $33.6 million, Middletown received $18.9 million and West Chester Twp. received $6.6 million.

Early on the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board indicated it would like funding, at least $1 million or so for a new emergency mental health crisis stabilization center. Executive Director Scott Rasmus told the Journal-News he is taking a step back to do a more in-depth analysis of the project.

“The last thing I want to do is create a facility and its goal or its role in the community is not fully defined or understood in the community by everybody,” Rasmus said. “And that it’s sustainable and that it functions appropriately. So I’ve decided to sort of back off on an RFP or proposal at this point.”

ExploreButler County MetroParks seeking $13 million of stimulus funds: What’s in the plan

County Administrator Judi Boyko said the 150-page document that offers guidance as to what the money can be spent on “still leaves substantial questions.”

“What administration is attempting to do for the commissioners is develop a matrix of all requests that have come in to-date and attempt to provide some insight about these requests’ eligibility,” Boyko said.

She said she is “seriously reviewing again” several projects that were proposed for funding out of the original $18.7 million the county received in CARES relief. One of those was a pilot program to help job seekers and businesses in the new workforce reality created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The treasury’s plan also allocates $843.7 million to Ohio for distribution to “non-entitlement” entities or smaller jurisdictions below the 50,000 population threshold. The treasury announced the 1,305 smaller townships in Ohio are designated “minor civil divisions” so it is now up to the state to decide if they get anything at all. The issue is still pending with the state budget office.

“There is no reason why they should not be included, it was crazy legislation to begin with,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “They’ve been hurt as much or more as anybody else... I’m shocked and surprised that they weren’t included but that just shows you much they don’t know in Washington.”

Aside from the ideas Carpenter has gathered several entities have submitted plans on their own. MetroParks is looking for $13 million to create a county-wide scenic waterway overlook system; fill gaps in the Great Miami River trail corridor and recoup lost rental and license fees due to the coronavirus pandemic, among other items.

Middletown is looking for $6.6 million to help the city “transform and redevelop” the Ohio 4 corridor entrance to the city and also support the Oakland Neighborhood revitalization.

Unlike the previous pot of COVID relief funding the deadlines for spending the money are much longer. The county received the first half of the money last month and the rest a year from now, they have until 2024 to use it.

Commissioner Don Dixon said he is excited to hear what the various groups and entities have come up with but for him worthy projects must have a significant, positive impact on the county long-term. He said he has had a few people express interest in a share of the funds, but he thinks economic development is the highest priority for the commissioners.

“When we get to that point we’ll make it public and anybody that wants to share their ideas we’re more than willing to listen,” Dixon said.