Citrus County could be in position of returning hundreds of thousands of dollars to the federal government if it cannot spend all of it to ease the financial burdens of COVID-19.
The county commission set a special meeting for 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, at the courthouse in Inverness after learning the state’s deadline for counties to spend CARES Act funds is Nov. 16.
About $1.4 million remains of the first funding allotment of $6.5 million. After the first batch is spent, another $5.2 million is headed to the county in a second wave of CARES funds, and it too must be spent by Nov. 16.
County Administrator Randy Oliver said he is working on a plan to ensure the funds are spent.
Board Chairman Brian Coleman, who leaves office following the Nov. 3 election, said those plans may include providing more funds to restaurants and bars, and doubling the amount already provided to other businesses.
Counties with populations of 500,000 or more were given direct allocations from the federal government. Other counties, like Citrus, received their fundings in portions, with the understanding that the funds must be spent by Dec. 30 or returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Oliver said the state’s CARES Act consultant notified counties they must provide the state by Nov. 16 with a report how the funds were spent. Any unused money must be returned, a possibility that Coleman finds unthinkable.
“That put a real kink in things,” he said of the new deadline. “We don’t want to give any money back.”
The county has released CARES Act grants in three phases:
• Phase one was aimed at businesses that were either closed by government order or severely restricted. Grants of $7,500 were provided to bars, restaurants, barbers, nail salons and tattoo parlors.
• In the second round, county officials noted the number of applicants that were denied in the first round because they didn’t have a county business tax receipt. The second round included grant incentives for business licenses, and expanded the eligibility to other businesses and provided more grants to those businesses from the first round. Plus, the county provided $150,000 to make rent, mortgage or utility payments for those out of work due to the pandemic.
• The third round, which is open now through Friday, Nov. 6, expands it even further to include nursing homes and care centers, with grants up to $24,950 depending on the number of employees.
Coleman said the county hasn’t received as many applications as it expected.
For example, officials said they expected 600 to 650 businesses to respond in the first round and to expect just $1 million or so remaining for the next round. Instead, about 400 businesses applied and the county allotted $2.2 million.
And even with the potential of up to nearly $25,000 on the table, he said the county received just three applications from assisted living facilities and day cares.
The county sends out postcards to all affected businesses, providing eligibility criteria and the application process.
Coleman said the board may consider providing an additional $10,000 to bars, restaurants and others from the first round, and double the amounts provided to other applicants.
He said the county wants to make sure CARES Act funds get into the hands of those who need it, but the clock is ticking.
“I’d rather we give it out to businesses if we can,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to give a penny back.”