Blount County received more than $1.9 million from the federal government’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) over the past year.
Blount used its $1,970,235 on distance learning, telehealth and payroll for “public health and safety employees that were substantially mitigated to the response of COVID-19,” Lisa Bell, from the county’s finance department, told the County Commission’s Budget Committee on Tuesday, April 6.
Part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the fund reimburses costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Treasury Department allocated $2.9 billion to Tennessee to be distributed among the 95 counties.
To be eligible for reimbursement, costs had to be incurred between March 1, 2020, and Dec. 30, 2020, as a result of COVID and could not be included in the county’s original fiscal 21 budget.
Equipment for virtual court proceedings, WiFi access in school parking lots and the Foothills Mall early voting location, Zoom licenses, laptops, anti-virus software and additional lanes at the Blount County Clerk’s Office on South Calderwood Street in Maryville were among the biggest projects paid for with the fund.
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office received a substantial portion of the $1.9 million for modifications to the Blount County Justice Center’s entrance, a full body scanner at the jail and washers, dryers and oxidizers at the jail and juvenile facility.
CRF also reimbursed the sheriff’s office $229,800 in payroll for “employees that were substantially dedicated to COVID-19,” the CRF request stated. These employees included deputies, correctional officers and other first responders, Bell said.
Reimbursements also were for ionizers and air scrubbers in more than 10 county buildings, testing of internet access in Blount County Schools’ students’ Chromebooks and certain COVID-19 insurance claims by county employees.
The Blount County Finance and Purchasing departments decided which projects were eligible for funding and submitted to the state requests detailing how the spending was related to COVID.
“Midway through the process, we established an internal application finance committee with the finance and purchasing departments to review the eligible expenses and expedite purchases for reimbursement,” Bell said.
The county submitted 45 funding requests totaling $2.2 million. A handful of these requests were not approved.
“We submitted some additional (requests) in case additional funds became available,” Bell said. “We’ve not been notified that there are additional funds available, but that was out there just in case.”
Now, the county’s Finance Department is taking these additional, unapproved requests totaling $34,401 to the County Commission. If approved, the money would come from the General County Fund Balance.
These requests include funds for internet access testing on BCS’ students’ Chromebooks and licenses and warranties — mostly for the Foothills Mall early voting location — that extended past Dec. 30, 2020.
“If it was a year warranty or a three-year warranty, that would only reimburse us through the end of the year,” Bell said. “This is just a small amount that was not covered.”
The commission will vote on the allocation of these funds starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 15, during its monthly meeting.
Commissioners also will vote on appropriating $350,302 for one-time payments to county employees.
While planning the fiscal 2021 budget, Blount took out the annual step increase for county employees due to the “unforeseen impact of COVID-19,” Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell wrote in a memo to the commission.
Now, the county is adding back the payments as “our finances have been minimally impacted,” Mitchell wrote.
The $550 for full-time employees and $275 for part-time employees will come out of the county’s fund balance if approved by the commission Thursday. Blount County Public Library and BCS employees are not included.
The commission will meet via Zoom, Meeting ID: 954 3521 2681.