WHEELING – West Virginia’s monthly municipal reimbursement allowance through federal CARES Act funding has ended. Yet millions of additional dollars in direct federal funding through the US bailout are expected to arrive soon.
Since the pandemic began a year ago, the economic downturn has impacted local governments in many ways – from losses in some revenue to additional expenses for emergency response teams.
Thanks to the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) law passed in the spring of 2020, the state of West Virginia received $ 1.25 billion to fund various aid programs.
About $ 200 million of that total has been set aside specifically for local governments and municipalities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town of Wheeling has successfully submitted monthly claims to the state since March and April. On average, Wheeling’s monthly repayments range between $ 1 million and $ 1.3 million.
Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron told members of the council’s finance committee last week that the state’s program that reimburses local governments with funding from the CARES Act has ended.
“The governor’s office said the local government’s portion of the CARES law money has been used up,” Herron said.
The CARES Act program for municipalities ended on December 31. Reimbursement requests up to the end of December have been submitted and the last round of allocations for these funds took place in the first two months of 2021.
While a new federal COVID relief program was recently passed through the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout, these funds are being allocated in different ways than the CARES Act programs. The town of Wheeling is expected to receive $ 29.51 million in direct funding from the American Rescue Plan.
Instead of having to ask for allocations from the state, these funds should be received directly from the federal government and distributed to areas of need by the city, giving local governments more flexibility in their use. Herron said city officials were awaiting advice from the US Treasury on specific parameters for the use of these new funds.
“Once we have received instructions on how this money is to be spent, the city council will meet in working session and discuss how these funds should be used in the city” Herron said Sunday.
The CARES Act allocations last year helped provide the city with an important safety net. Although the city’s revenues in many areas have declined over the past 12 months, Wheeling has been able to take a conservative budget approach, making budget amendments as needed and controlling spending and income.
As a result, the city was able to channel almost all monthly CARES law distributions to its municipal budget stabilization fund or project fund.
“The municipal budget stabilization fund is maintained with nearly $ 5 million remaining”, Herron said, indicating that the city has fully funded and capped this emergency rainy day fund. Members of the finance committee had agreed that with the municipal budget stabilization fund carrying $ 5 million, the last allocations from the CARES law would be directed to the project fund, which according to the February financial reports currently stands. to about $ 6.7 million. A number of municipal contracts in recent months have been paid for with funds from the Project Fund.
In addition to the CARES law money, this financing fund for the city’s projects includes oil and gas revenues and the revenues of the financing district of the tax increases that had been generated by the former ownership of the medical center of the Ohio Valley before the city acquired it.
“The project fund is also very healthy at this stage”, Herron said.
The February financial report showed the city’s general fund balance to be just under $ 2.3 million, which is in line with figures for the same period in previous years.
“The global number is definitely skewed because of the money from the CARES law”, Herron said, adding that with the city being two-thirds away in the current fiscal year, it still stays within budget. “There are some revenue line items we’ve talked about before that can certainly be attributed to COVID-19 and a downturn in business. Retail services revenues are declining. But B&O taxes are up this year, and contracts are up.
In addition to the local government allocation through the US bailout, there are qualifying expenses that should also be approved, but these reimbursements should not be similar to the CARES Act reimbursement month.
“It’s going to be in the order of $ 1.5 million over a period of time, so it won’t be a big chunk, but nonetheless, we’re going to submit it,” Herron said. “Overall, we are still, I think, in fairly good financial shape at this point in the year, obviously given that we have lost income due to COVID. “