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Troup County commissioners talk $1.7 million in CARES funding

The Troup County Board of Commissioners spent much of its Thursday work session discussing the financial impact of COVID-19 on the county, as well as how to spend $1.7 million in federal funds received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Commissioners, however, did not move forward with any proposals due to uncertainty among county staff as to how the money could be spent. Commissioners also wanted to clarify the county’s financial outlook due to the pandemic.

“I don’t see how we can make smart decisions until we know how much it’s [COVID-19] cost us,” Commissioner Lewis Davis said. “Making these decisions without knowing our expenses is not a smart thing, I don’t think.”

County Manager Eric Mosley and Chief Financial Officer Sonya Conroy struggled to answer all of the commissioners’ questions. Mosley said staff needed more time to figure out what the federal guidelines on spending the money are.

“We just need a little more time in order to ascertain the true vision of what the federal government and the state government has for these funds,” Mosley said, adding that the unusually quick turnaround from the federal government in response to requests for funds put extra stress on the finance department.

“Sounds like you’ve got more questions than answers at this time,” Davis told Mosley.

Mosley said he and Conroy should be able to come back soon with clear revenue and expenditures numbers, as well as how the FY2020 and FY2021 budgets have been impacted. He will also seek more guidance from the county auditor and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia about how the money can be spent.

Mosley said some of the costs the county can recoup through the funds are those incurred from purchasing personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing, sanitation supplies, extra cleaning services such as at the government center or in the jail, overtime pay for staff working in direct response to the pandemic, pay and benefits for staff working to mitigate the pandemic and telework equipment.

Mosley anticipates additional expenses in 2020, citing the continued need for diligent cleaning, PPE purchases and expenses associated with first responders and the jail.

Conroy said revenues from work release and court fees were down dramatically. However, data is only available for the first month or two of the pandemic.

Court services revenue was down 99% in the one month for which data is available, but is recovering and “almost back in full swing,” Conroy said,

“We’ve got things in place. We do a lot of virtual court, and we’ve started to do a whole lot more in-person court. [Superior Court] Judge [Nina Markette] Baker has been very aggressive with her court calendars to make sure that we handle cases,” Court Services Director Lindsay Mobley said.

“And I think in the future the state court is going to be a lot more aggressive as well.”

Another department that lost significant revenue has been parks and recreation, Mosley said. He attributed that mainly to spring and summer sports not happening, but noted expenses were also down.

Online sales, through which the county receives sales tax, have brought in more revenue than usual. Mosley and Chairman Patrick Crews said boat and car sales have also been up, bringing in more tax and tag fee revenue.

“The county has done a good job during the fruitful years of saving for a rainy day. And so, when the rainy day came we have been better prepared than others,” Mosley said.

Crews said the topic of employee compensation had been discussed recently. The LaGrange City Council last week voted to spend $600,000 in city CARES funds on hazard pay for city employees, granting three $500 payments to each full-time employee — except department heads and elected officials — spread out over the last three months of the year.

Mayor Jim Thornton proposed the move, citing the work of city employees who have stayed on the job throughout the pandemic.

“I want all of our employees to understand … that we do appreciate the job they did during this difficult time,” Crews said.

Mosley said “very few” local governments in Georgia had taken the approach of awarding extra pay. The consensus of commissioners was that the county needed to crunch more numbers and examine what strings were attached to the CARES funds before it doled out any extra pay.

Crews also emphasized that the county money was only received two weeks ago, and they have not been “sitting on it.”

“Please understand that it’s not that we’re opposed, in any way,” Crews said. “We want to look into this matter, and come back, fairly quickly, and make the decision and keep you informed as to what’s going on.”

Two requests to lift the hiring freeze were also submitted at the meeting, to be voted on at the Tuesday meeting:

  • Mobley requested the hiring freeze be lifted to hire an assistant solicitor. The position is already budgeted, and the former assistant solicitor left in August.
  • E-911 Director Jason Lawson requested the hiring freeze be lifted to hire a deputy director for E-911. Currently, the position is held by Kim Vaughn, who will retire at the end of the year.