The West Monroe Board of Aldermen signed off an application earlier this week requesting federal relief to cover expenditures stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.
As of Monday, there was only some $511 million available for local governments from a $1.8-billion stimulus package the federal government awarded the state. The state will review applications from local governments and disburse the relief for eligible expenditures.
“We’re taking all our expenses and including them in our application, though there may be some expenses that may or may not be allowed,” Mayor Staci Mitchell told The Ouachita Citizen.
The application was the only item on the agenda for the Board of Aldermen’s special called meeting Tuesday morning. West Monroe attorney Doug Caldwell, who serves as the city’s legal counsel, noted that many other local governments also would seek relief.
“It’s first come, first serve,” Caldwell said. “There is a concern the money might run out, which is why we held the special meeting.”
West Monroe was one of two local governing entities meeting this week to file an application. The Ouachita Parish Police Jury voted to file an application as well during the jury’s meeting Monday.
There was still some ambiguity about which expenditures might be covered, according to Mitchell and Scott Olvey, the city’s finance director. The federal stimulus package would definitely cover expenditures on personal protective equipment (PPE) and many public safety expenses, but city officials still wondered whether other indirect expenditures would be eligible.
“That’s the fuzzy part,” Olvey said. “Does it cover payroll? They said yes, but how do we show that?”
Mitchell and Olvey pointed out the state also was trying to decipher the intent of the federal stimulus package as approved by the Congress.
“Everybody’s learning,” added Alderman Trevor Land.
An allocation of federal relief could ease any financial troubles experienced by the city during the recent COVID-19 crisis.
For example, the city’s sales tax collections took a dive in recent months as the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated social distancing restrictions hampered commerce.
The city also expects its sales tax collections in the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, could drop by as much as $1.5 million.
The city’s application would include a broad range of expenditures, according to Olvey.
“We’ll submit a lot and let them eliminate the expenditures that are not allowed,” he said.
Earlier this week, legislation tinkering with the allocation of the federal funds gained approval in the state Legislature.
The Legislature adopted a conference committee report that dropped the amount of federal relief allocated for local governments from $810 million to some $511 million. The remaining $300 million was allocated to a recovery fund for small businesses.
Mitchell expressed disappointment in the reduction of funding for local governments.
“We really want the allocation to stay close to the formula, just like the bill was originally written,” Mitchell said.