The county’s department of finance on Tuesday requested permission from the St. Mary’s commissioners to hold a public hearing in three weeks, authorizing the $19.8 million supplemental appropriation from the Coronavirus Relief Fund grant to help cover costs related to COVID-19.
Jeannett Cudmore, chief financial officer for the county, reminded commissioners they “approved the plan submitted to the state on May 5 for a total of $19.8 million … $9.9 million is for public health expenditures to be allocated to the health department.” The federal money, passed through the state, was authorized through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.
Large projects noted at last week’s meeting included $2 million for a small business program and $3 million to provide cable connectivity to the county’s “middle mile,” for those working and learning at home.
She said, “what we are really asking for is budget authority because we can’t actually receive the money or spend the money until we have budget authority … that’s really what the whole public hearing is.”
“So budget authority is predicated on having a public hearing?” Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) asked, with Cudmore responding yes, since they currently do not have it.
“We have to advertise to get that,” she said.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said it’s a “cost-neutral proposition,” since the county’s budget will not increase upon acceptance of the grant dollars.
Regarding a $5 million request of the funds by the board of education that would have been used to buy laptops for students, Hewitt asked Cudmore if it was the commissioners’ decision to allocate that money, or if the laptops were even eligible for the money.
She said if more money is allocated to the county, through requests or money not needed in other jurisdictions, commissioners could allow funds to be used for laptops, but currently the commissioners’ spending plan only gives about $58,000 to the board of education, to be used for public health.
Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) expressed concern with not using all of the money allocated to the county, especially since the board of education would not get its request.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R), who attended the meeting via conference call, said he agreed with Colvin and claimed the funding could have been used to buy the computers.
“We need to take care of immediate needs,” he said.
Cudmore assured that all of the funds should be used before commissioners unanimously approved the public hearing, which will be held on Tuesday, June 2, at 9:15 a.m.
It was not immediately clear how the remainder of the money would be spent, although a county document said the funds would be allocated “for payroll expenses, facilitate compliance, economic support and governmental function expenses.”
Earlier in the meeting, commissioners approved a request from the department of public works and transportation to apply for the $69,000 of the federal administration CARES Act grant allocated to operation costs at the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport.
John Deatrick, director of the department, told commissioners the FAA CARES Act grant application “currently gives $69,000 to spend, however, we want to spend it within constraints of the law, to support operations at the airport.” He asked they accept the grant and send in the application.
He mentioned the funds would be for operating costs at the airport and once the grant is accepted, the department will send invoices of the work they believe falls under the right category.
“With our other CARES grants, it’s money that’s being used in response to coronavirus outside of our regular budget. Does that same criteria apply to this funding?” Colvin asked.
Deatrick responded that it does, “in a broader sense” as it is dedicated to “whatever effects it may have had on us,” and helps them prepare for the future. For example, “a business plan looks like it may be fundable under this because that will make us more sustainable and better able to react.”
Hewitt asked, “Do you have any plans for the money right now?”
“We had an internal meeting over the phone,” Deatrick said, “and we developed a whole list of things that actually also includes capital expenses.”
He continued, “We talked to [the Maryland Aviation Administration] about their grant funding that they may announce soon. They’re waiting until their budget is finalized to find out what we can receive from them. … We don’t have a standby generator to keep our runway lights lit if the power goes down.” Deatrick said a number of projects like this one are not eligible for FAA funding but are for MAA funding, adding, “I feel like we are pretty well prepared to move forward with that.”