Prince William County has so far spent just more than half of the $82 million it received in federal and state COVID-19 relief funds it received last spring. But officials say the full amount will be depleted by the Dec. 30 deadline, in part by using some of the money to pay police, fire and public health salaries, which is allowed under federal guidelines.
The county received its slice of the $3 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding allocated to Virginia in May and July to help buffer the economic impacts of the coronavirus. The pandemic has resulted in historic levels of unemployment and businesses closures across the country.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors allocated its CARES Act funds to help those impacted locally by the pandemic. Those efforts included providing funds for childcare, community foodbanks, COVID-19 testing, small business aid, housing assistance, homeless services and remote learning initiatives for the county school system.
So far, Prince William County has spent $44 million of its CARES Act funds, and an additional $23 million is expected to go out the door by the end of the year, according to the county’s Director of Finance Michelle Attreed.
Another $13.5 million in CARES Act funds have not yet been spent. But Attreed said the county will use any unused funds by the Dec. 30 deadline to pay for public safety and public health employee salaries, which is allowable under federal CARES Act guidelines.
Attreed said the move will free up money in county’s general fund to pay for coronavirus-related expenses after the Dec. 30 deadline.
“If we have those funds set aside … we will charge salary costs that are allowable to the CARES Act to make sure we fully expend all of those funds,” Attreed told the county supervisors Tuesday, Nov. 17. “We know on December 30 our costs aren't going to stop. There's going to be a need to continue to respond.”
Some CARES Act funding that comes directly from the federal government separate from the county’s state-allocated funds, including some federal housing aid, does not have a Dec. 30 deadline, and the county will be able to use those funds into 2021.
But if more relief funding is not allocated from the state or federal government in 2021, the county will have to start using local tax dollars for coronavirus-related expenditures such as personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing and community aid to food banks beginning in January, according to county Management and Budget Director David Sinclair.
“After December 30th, unless something happens at the federal or state level or that deadline is extended, we're on our own in terms of maintaining the services to the community in response to the pandemic,” Sinclair said.
Attreed also briefed the board on the county’s financial position for the first quarter of the fiscal year. She said the real estate market has remained strong in the county throughout the first quarter, particularly the residential real estate market, but added the county has a “slightly negative outlook” because “there's just not enough homes on the market.”
Attreed said that while retail tax revenue at the national level has seen a decline locally, the county is “still seeing very strong sales tax revenues,” likely because people are teleworking during the pandemic.
“I think we benefit some from people working at home. You may have had people that worked in Fairfax or the District of Columbia that maybe did their shopping there. They're now here at the house. So, I think the telework situation maybe is helping some of our sales tax,” Attreed said.
Sinclair said the county is expecting an agency budget shortfall of about $10 million and a general fund revenue shortfall of $1.5 million. More than half of the lost revenues from county agencies are from the county’s parks, recreation and tourism department, which has taken a hit because of the closure of the county’s aquatic and fitness centers.
But Sinclair said the county is expected to have $12 million in general fund savings this year, which will leave the county with a small general fund surplus of about $500,000.
“Vigilance is going to be required,” Sinclair said.
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