CARES Act grants help Stow, Munroe Falls payroll for police and fire

LAURA FREEMAN
Reporter
Stow fire department will have 25% of its salaries from March to December 2020 covered by CARES Act funds from the county.

STOW - The county has given more direction on how to spend the CARES Act funds and the city is adding up the salaries of its safety forces to take advantage of the grant money.

Finance director Jim Costello said the city of Stow is receiving $961,000 from the county and $971,000 from the state in CARES Act funds to help with expenses related to COVID-19.

The county is pushing the funds out to the communities and created a payroll support grant program, he said. The county determined about 25% of the fire and dispatch payroll expenses and 15% of police payroll expenses from March 1 through Dec. 31 would be allowed.

The city had already passed legislation in July to accept the CARES ACT funds from both state and county, Costello said. The funds are passed through the county to the city.

“We would report to Summit County on a monthly basis,” Costello said. “But they will give us the entire amount in one shot.”

The state funding, if used for safety forces, would be in the same percentage as the county funds, he said.

“Everyone is holding off on state funds,” Costello said. “We’re using that to cover any direct costs associated with COVID-19.”

An example would be if the city normally bought 1,000 masks but because of COVID, the city bought 10,000 masks, then the city could charge 9,000 masks to the COVID account, he said. Amounts over what was budgeted for city expenses goes toward COVID expenses.

Costello said employees who were sent home and money spent on administrative leave due to social distancing can be covered by the state money.

The $961,000 will cover fire and most of dispatch, Costello said. The state funds would cover other expenses above that in police and dispatch.

The CARES Act money frees up funds budgeted for fire and police, and that money goes back into the general fund for other things, he said.

In addition FEMA awarded Stow $222,702 to the fire department which used the money to purchase 46 new NFPA and P25 compliant radios, Costello said. FEMA’s funds covered 90% of the purchase.

“I have to commend Summit County,” said Mayor John Pribonic. “They’ve been a tremendous partner to work with and not just us but the surrounding cities and townships.”

Summit County received $94.4 million of the CARES Act funds to use to cover COVID-19 related expenses, but cities had to wait for more direction on how to spend it, he said.

The grant money for police and fire helps to balance the budget as a whole, Pribonic said.

“If we didn’t receive this money, we couldn’t do a $1.2 million road program or put a $300,000 roof on the safety center or invest in our parks,” Pribonic said. “If we didn’t get this money, the residents would have seen a devastation to our budget.”

Pribonic said the $1.9 million total won’t cover everything planned in the budget, but the city can do the more urgent things that need done. In March and the following months, the city didn’t know how COVID-19 would affect businesses and tax collections.

“Now we’re on solid footing,” Pribonic said.

There will be some losses from the lodging tax and gasoline tax as well as from the municipal courts, but the finance department took a conservative approach to the budget and did a lot of cost cutting. The city still provided services to the community that they needed and expected.

“2019 had a healthy carryover, and we’ve weathered the storm so far in 2020,” Pribonic said. “We can move ahead. The CARES Act funding helps our city and those around us.”

MUNROE FALLS

Munroe Falls City Council Aug. 18 unanimously approved two resolutions for an increase in appropriations of the CARES Act HB 481 funding and for an application and agreement with Summit County for the COVID-19 CARES Act Local Government Payroll Support Grant Program. 

Munroe Falls finance director Karen Reynolds said the city is receiving $144,000 from the county and $156,858 from the state. The county funds will cover the 15% for police payroll and 25% for the fire payroll from March 1 through November, she said.

“We have other things we are looking at for state funding,” Reynolds said. “The problem we’re running into is there are some things not available because of supply and demand. We have a wish list, and we’ll see how things go.”

Mayor James Armstrong said Munroe Falls and local communities lost revenue because of the pandemic.

The gas tax would have increased revenue for local governments but no one was driving, Armstrong said. Businesses weren’t operating so that reduced revenue.

The CARES Act provides funds for necessary employees in EMS or the police departments and offsets the lost revenue.

“For most communities, it’s to free up money so we’re not in the hole,” Armstrong said. “In 2017 residents voted for three levies to get us out of the hole we were in before. Last year we were in the black for the first time in a decade. We were looking forward to this year, and COVID hit and everything came to a screeching halt.”

Other larger communities have more flexibility to cut staffing, but Munroe Falls has a core group of people to maintain the services for the city, he said.

“Every employee in Munroe Falls is an essential employee,” Armstrong said.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com