Mercer County commissioners

Mercer County Commissioners Gene Buckner, Bill Archer and Greg Puckett listen to the debate concerning the historic Clay Family statue in this 2019 file photo.

PRINCETON — Mercer County and city officials are still trying to determine how much money they may be able to receive from federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Gov. Jim Justice has been urging counties and cities to apply for a share of the $1.25 billion in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding, with $200 million earmarked for municipalities.

However, Mercer County Commission President Gene Buckner said as he understands it, the application for funding applies only to direct pandemic expenses, not money that may be lost because of a decline in revenue or expenses that may be incurred other than supplies.

“They can’t get paid unless it’s it’s related to COVID-19 expenses,” he said of municipalities. “It all comes down to whether you have used the money for COVID-19 and you have the invoices to prove it.”

For example, he said any overtime first-responders may incur could be reimbursable, but only with proof it related to the pandemic response.

Tim Farley, director of emergency services of the county, agrees, saying the proof is needed.

“The Governor has been pushing to have the counties send in more receipts to where they have purchased PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and those type of expenses,” he said. “The CARES Act for sure is for PPE and other expenses that could have been incurred…”

But even with overtime, that must be proven to be related to the pandemic with the proper documentation like time sheets and purpose, he said, which can be difficult to do.

“It’s not an honor system,” Farley said of the applications.

Money lost through the hotel and motel tax cannot be recouped either, he added.

Commissioner Greg Puckett also said as far as he knows at this point, reimbursable expenses are only for specific items related to the pandemic.

“We are looking to see what charges we may be able to write back off that related to the stimulus money,” he said, adding that the county had an initial request for $37,000 from another source in the CARES Act, not the $1.25 billion, and that was approved for direct expenses for supplies.

Princeton City Manager Mike Webb said the city’s initial pandemic expenses were covered by donations, but an application was submitted to the state for $8,800 to cover more expenses and that was approved.

“We have been awarded that,” he said, adding that it covers the purchase of sanitizer and gloves.

Webb said the city continues to research other possibilities for reimbursements and will apply for those funds, but nothing is certain yet.

Dane Rideout, Bluefield city manager, also said the city’s initial pandemic expenses have been covered and other reimbursements from the state are being pursued.

“We have put in for Police Department and Fire Department wages,” he said. “But no word on that yet.”

Justice said Friday that more than $38 million has now been awarded to cities and counties throughout West Virginia applying for funds through the federal CARES Act. A new web portal is now available for city and county government officials to apply for this grant funding, at grants.wv.gov.

Justice has maintained all along that more uses for the money other than supplies will become available to municipalities, but he has so far not specified those uses.

Buckner also said $100,000 the county received from the state in May is still being held in an account.

The money was initially sent to be used as “hero pay” for first-responders, but then that purpose was rescinded by Justice because of federal strings attached to it, Justice said at the time.

“We are still not clear about how to spend it,” Buckner said, adding that the county has until Dec. 31 to spend it, but wants to make it is used in a way that is properly vetted.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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