County gets nearly $500K for COVID-related expenses

Nearly $500,000 in COVID-19 relief funding is now in the county’s general fund, but where will the money go?

That’s the main question some residents had at this week’s Brown County Council meeting.

Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle announced on Dec. 8 that the county had received $494,000 in payroll relief funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The county requested a lump sum for public safety salaries, and then the money is to be moved to the general fund so the council can dole it out to cover COVID expenses. The procedure for doing that was approved at the Dec. 14 council meeting.

The money, coming though the Indiana Finance Authority, is to cover “public health and/or public safety payroll costs due to the declared emergency.”

At the time of the Dec. 14 meeting, no county council members had a copy of the document that was used to justify the $494,000 request for CARES Act funding for Brown County, so they could not yet say exactly what budget lines the money would be replenishing. The council will need to receive and approve an appropriation for each one before money flows into those budget lines.

County council President Dave Redding said he intends to have a summary of where the money is going in council members’ hands and advertised to the public before the council’s next meeting on Monday, Dec. 28.

“We’ve got several budget lines that are in the negative because we’ve had to pay out additional payroll for people that are working the health clinic, the COVID clinic, and some other departments have had some significant overtime, as well as technology and COVID-related expenses,” Biddle said Dec. 16.

Aside from the CARES Act covering payroll and other COVID-19 related costs the county has incurred this year, the Brown County Music Center is set to receive $239,000 of the $494,000 per a memorandum of understanding between the county and the music center.

The agreement was for the county to use the BCMC as the location for all jury trials and other functions, like county board meetings, because the county “lacks other office space large enough to allow adequate social distancing,” the document states. The 2,000-seat auditorium allowed some of those events to go on in person instead of over the phone or on Zoom.

This month, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended further jury trials statewide until March 1, 2021, citing surges in COVID-19 cases.

The MOU also allowed for the BCMC to be used for anything election-related. The BCMC was not used as a voting site, but it was used as a venue to conduct a Brown County election audit.

The BCMC also was to be used for Indiana Department of Child Services and prosecutor child support trainings.

The MOU also states the county would provide funding equivalent to the interest-only mortgage payments and the cost of utilities. The compensation was set at $239,000, but the music center will not receive that full amount right away.

In April, the council approved a resolution that transferred up to $150,000 from the county’s motor vehicle highway (MVH) fund to a special line in the county’s general fund. That money was used for the interest-only mortgage payments.

The $150,000 loan will be deducted from the $239,000 in CARES Act funding the music center was set to receive, because the MVH loan has to be paid back by the end of the year. This means the center will receive a check for $89,000.

However, at the Dec. 8 music center management group meeting, Biddle, who is also a management group member, told the board she was preparing resolutions to reloan the $150,000 from the MVH fund to the music center on Jan. 1. Then the music center would then have another year to pay it back.

The music center also has an MOU with the commissioners and the Brown County Health Department for the building to be used as a COVID-19 testing site, as temporary office space for the health department’s nurses, and for any health department trainings and health board meetings. Compensation for this MOU was set at $20,000 and is to come from grant funding, not from the CARES Act.

The venue is expected to receive that $20,000 in grant funding by the end of this month, BCMC Executive Director Christian Webb reported at the Dec. 10 Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission meeting.

Both MOUs are set to expire at the end of this year, but “may be extended due to continued declared public health emergency conditions,” both memorandums state.