Wilkes County government’s initial allocation of $1.36 million through the federal CARES Act for coronavirus-related costs has been nearly doubled.
With the additional $1.32 million, Wilkes is now getting $2.69 million through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.
The $1.32 million was allocated through N.C. House Bill 1023, signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 1.
HB 1023 requires that municipalities receive 25% of CARES Act funds appropriated to county governments, which means the three towns in Wilkes will get a combined $672,705.
Wilkes County Finance Director Chris Huffman said the portions each town gets are based on population, which indicates nearly $350,000 for North Wilkesboro, about $282,000 for Wilkesboro and about $33,600 for Ronda.
They initially were going to get a combined $158,836 (11.6%) of the first $1.36 million.
Huffman said the initial $1.36 million was for coronavirus-related expenses in Wilkes for March 20 through Dec. 30. He said it’s not clear if the $1.32 million is for that same period or longer.
Initial plans for the $1.36 million, presented at the June 16 Wilkes County commissioners meeting, were based on county government’s coronavirus-related expenses March 20 through the end of May.
Huffman said these plans will be revised, but with the same spending categories, as a result of the additional $1.32 million being awarded.
He said county government’s coronavirus-related expenses through mid-June were about $95,000.
Plans for the first $1.36 million call for spending:
• $150,000 on medical expenses, including COVID-19 testing and emergency medical transportation;
• $327,250 on public health costs, including closing and sanitizing public buildings and parks, quarantining people in hotels who otherwise can’t quarantine, contact tracing and personal protection equipment for government employees, volunteer fire departments and nursing homes;
• $230,000 on salaries of Wilkes Emergency Medical Services, Wilkes Health Department and Wilkes Sheriff’s Office frontline workers. It includes coronavrus-related paid sick, family or medical leave. It also includes hazard pay. Huffman said frontline workers in these departments already received $200 per month in hazard pay for three months;
• $295,000 on public health measures, including sanitation stations, IT improvements for teleworking, sanitizing and other measures at the Wilkes County Courthouse and sick, family or medical leave expenses;
• $60,000 on economic support, including small business recovery programs through the Wilkes Economic Development Corp.;
• $92,000 on other coronavirus-related costs, including emergency shelter and food.
The plans call for allocating $50,000 of the $1.36 million to non-profits, which Huffman said would be available on an application basis.
Huffman, County Manager John Yates and Phil Trew, director of planning and development for the High Country Council of Governments, developed the plans.
Trew said at the June 16 meeting that local governments can apply for reimbursement from FEMA for 75% of expenses for such needs as immediate public health threats, emergency medical care, meal delivery, security and law enforcement starting Jan. 20 and ongoing.
Wilkes EMS Director Tim Pennington and Wilkes Emergency Management Director Suzanne Hamby were involved in discussions of FEMA funds, said Trew.
“The tricky part is meeting each department’s needs but not double-dipping,” said Huffman, adding that this could result in having to pay money back. He said county government is responsible if a Wilkes town spends funds for unauthorized purposes.
Reporting on use of the funds must start by Oct. 1.
Trew submitted paperwork to get Wilkes County government registered for FEMA and CARES Act funds. He is cataloging the county’s expenses to confirm what is eligible for reimbursement through FEMA.
Trew emphasized the importance of documenting expenses, spending relief funds correctly to avoid having to pay anything back and not requesting FEMA funds for ineligible purposes.
Huffman said, “If we can’t get reimbursed for it, we’re trying to use CARES Act funding.”
Trew is assisting Wilkes County government at the request of Wilkes officials. Huffman said the federal government is paying High Country to provide this help.
Trew said he wasn’t asked to help any of the other six county governments in the High Country COG.
Yates said the Wilkes County Airport is getting an additional $69,000 and the health department is also getting additional funds, but paperwork must be submitted for this. The Wilkes County School System is also getting additional relief funds.