County still holds on account a sizeable amount of federal pandemic relief dollars

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Posted April 28, 2022 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty
jennifer@ocalagazette.com

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on April 30 to provide more details about the initial instructions from state and federal officials about how the federal relief was to be allocated.

Marion County issued its latest report reflecting expenditures and balance of the $63.8 million in federal aid it received at the start of the pandemic. 

As of March 31, 2022, the balance is still more than $17 million, down from $21.5 million at the start of 2021.

The money now sits in the county’s general fund, but county commissioners have earmarked the money for COVID-19 related relief.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, in response to the pandemic created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) which provided $150 billion in direct assistance for domestic governments.

The State of Florida received more than $8.3 billion of that fund with the direction to allocate 55 percent to the state and 45 percent to eligible local governments.

On June 10, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the State of Florida’s plan to disburse up to $1.275 billion in CARES Act funds to counties with populations below 500,000, which included Marion County. Using a phased approach, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) would distribute funds to the remaining counties using the following criteria:

  1. a necessary expenditure incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19;
  2. were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of the date of enactment (March 27, 2020); and
  3. were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020 and ends on December 30, 2020.

In that same statement, DeSantis tasked each county with providing “funds to municipalities located within their jurisdiction on a reimbursement basis for expenditures eligible under the CARES Act and related guidance.”

However, the federal treasury rules did not require the county to share the federal relief and left it to the discretion of the county.

In early 2021 when the treasury rules changed the county was able to reimburse themselves for all Public Health and Safety employee hours even though they had been accounted for in their 2020 budget.

Once that money was paid into the general fund, the federal treasury rules no longer restricted how they spent the money.

This last accounting reflects Marion County has shared a total of 2% of the federal relief with the cities of Ocala, Belleview and Dunnellon.

As previously reported, there were problems navigating the federal rules associated with the relief initially for local governments until the feds and the state relaxed them.

Use this link to view a full copy of the county’s March 31 Revenue & Expenditure Report CARES Act expenditures: https://www.marioncountyclerk.org/cares-act-revenue-and-expenditure-status-report

The commission has been considering requests for reimbursement on a case-by-case basis over the past year from municipalities and other projects such as a business incubator in the Shores proposed by the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (CEP)

Stacie Causey, spokesperson for the county told the Gazette that fund allocations will be discussed during the budget workshops in July regarding the 2022-2023 fiscal year.