At a Tuesday meeting, commissioners approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic, Security Act federal certification and agreement with the state after a request from the office of the county attorney.
David Weiskopf, county attorney, told commissioners the CARES Act was passed by Congress at the end of March and signed by President Trump. Approximately $2.34 billion was made available for the state of Maryland and St. Mary’s County is “looking at getting roughly $19.8 million” for COVID-19 related expenses, he said.
He reminded them there is an emergency supplemental appropriation hearing June 2, where commissioners will authorize the spending of the funds.
“I’m here today to ask you to sign the agreement by the department of budget management by the state of Maryland,” Weiskopf said. “In order for us to get our money, they want an agreement which indemnifies them that if we were to somehow spend this money incorrectly and not for COVID-19 funds, then the federal government can ask for money back. … We agree that we would pay the state of Maryland back.”
“So basically like a grant agreement?” Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said, with Weiskopf confirming.
Commissioners voted to approve the certification, except for Commissioner John O’Connor (R), who voted against.
“I fundamentally disagree with how they allocated money from the CARES Act,” O’Connor said when asked why he voted no. “It’s meant for immediate and direct impacts of COVID-19.”
In the commissioners’ spending plan for the funds, announced last week, $2 million was designated for a small business program, $3 million to provide cable connectivity to the county’s “middle mile” for those working and learning from home, and about $59,000 was given to the board of education, even though the school board requested $5 million, to help pay for laptops for students.
And while half of the approximate $20 million was slated to go to the local health department, it was still unclear this week how the remaining millions will be spent.
“The middle mile is not an immediate impact,” O’Connor said, adding, small businesses are shutting their doors and they were only given a very “small portion of money in the big scheme of things.”
He suggested more money could have been put into a small business incentive program to help the citizens of this county, rather than $3 million being put into the middle mile, which could have just been a long-term project that commissioners pay for using reserves. He claimed “it’s an insult and a slap in the face to the board of education,” as well, while there are families in need of laptops for distance learning.
“It’s morally deprived … and goes against Senator [Jack] Bailey’s” and other lawmakers’ hard work, O’Connor said. “The state did not have to give us $20 million for such a small county.”