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Townships left out of $147 million federal COVID-19 relief windfall for Butler County

Posted at 9:56 AM, Mar 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-21 10:04:07-04

BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio — Butler County and its cities and villages are slated to receive a massive windfall of federal coronavirus relief funding, but townships remain excluded from the distribution unless the U.S. Treasury decides otherwise, The Journal-News reported.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law March 11, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the latest estimated disbursement list from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the county would receive the largest allocation at nearly $75 million. Other payments to local governments range from $36.2 million for Hamilton to $10,000 for tiny Jacksonburg.

The 13 townships get none.

The Ohio Township Association and several Democratic congressmen and senators are urging U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to expand funding to include the Ohio townships in the funding formula.

Townships were included in the version that passed the U.S. House but not the Senate version the president signed. OTA Director of Governmental Affairs Marisa Myers told the Journal-News there was a definition change for “non-entitlement unit of local government” that apparently changed the funding formula.

“I wish I had a crystal ball but I just don’t,” Myers said of the effort to change the funding. “We’re really hopeful we’ll be included but we just don’t know.”

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, who along with his fellow Republicans voted against the ARP, told the Journal-News he opposed the legislation “for so many reasons.” They include that the federal government made decisions that should have been delegated to the states, he said.

“It highlights the problem with Washington, D.C. trying to decide for the whole country, down to the township level ... I mean really think about Ross Twp., somebody in Washington, D.C. or sitting at the U.S. Treasury is going to figure out exactly the right amount of money to give Ross Twp.,” Davidson said. “This is a crazy plan.”

Myers provided a spreadsheet of what the estimated funding breakdown was after the measure passed the House. Those preliminary estimates showed West Chester Twp., for example, receiving the largest allocation countywide of either $14.3 million or $11.9 million depending on the actual calculation. It is targeted for no money in the current law.

“The townships are a very important part of Ohio government and they probably represent far more people than you’d find in urban areas,” West Chester Twp. Trustee Mark Welch said. “The townships need help just like the cities do, this is a real travesty because whether it’s wording or an overlook, there’s a lot of people that could be effected because they’re not getting the money.”

Under the House bill estimates, Fairfield Twp. would have received between $4.2 to $5 million. Township Administrator Julie Vonderhaar said the funds are “crucial to helping our communities recover from the effects of the pandemic” and if the campaign to add townships is unsuccessful, she hopes the county will step up.

“I am hopeful that the counties are legally able to and willing to consider townships upon receipt of their distributions,” Vonderhaar said.

The law says the funds must be distributed within 60 days of bill passage. The commissioners have not had an opportunity to discuss how the funds will be spent, but commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News they would consider sharing.

“They’re part of the county so I’d say, yeah, everything is on the table,” Dixon said. “We have to look at the overall picture but if they need help it’s part of our job to help.”

Rogers initially said he’d rather return the funds to the feds — as did Warren County Commissioner Dave Young — but his fellow commissioners don’t agree. He said he would favor giving the townships some money.

“There’s some guidelines from the local government funds, that would be a basis,” Rogers said. “We of course would be fair, we don’t play favorites.”

Under the funding plan that is currently the law, Hamilton would get the next-highest allotment, and City Manager Joshua Smith said officials there verified the $36.2 million amount with the state.

“Once there is more clarification regarding the ARP, city council will have a special meeting, and likely future meetings, to review the rules for how any funds can be utilized,” Smith told the Journal-News.

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners this week they have until the end of 2024 to spend the money and the first of two installments should be deposited into county coffers by mid-May. She and her staff are still combing through the voluminous documents, but this federal funding appears to be less restrictive than the previous CARES Act funding.

Oxford could get $4.3 million if nothing changes, and City Manager Doug Elliott said “it is welcome news.” He said it appears the city can use the money to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on households and businesses, non-profits and other industries; grant premium pay for essential workers, government or to employers dealing with the pandemic; revenue loss due to the pandemic and investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

The rules specifically exclude shoring up pensions or offsetting tax cuts.

Middletown’s cut is estimated at $18.2 million, and City Manager Jim Palenick said it will allow the city “to accomplish some truly impactful programs and projects on behalf of our citizens.”

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO.