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Warren needs plans for $3M

Funds must be spent on expenses related to novel coronavirus

WARREN — Warren has millions in COVID-19 relief money coming, but has to come up with a plan for using the funds or it risks losing them.

The administration already has taken some steps.

For example, city council was ready for its second reading on a resolution establishing a fund to place $1.1 million from the Trumbull County Coronavirus Relief Fund and use it for COVID-19-related expenses — but learned that city officials already had created the account.

The account is necessary for the city to accept the money from the county. What wasn’t needed Wednesday was city council action.

City officials had attempted to involve council in creating the account during a meeting last month, but council failed to approve the emergency resolution because two members were absent and two others voted against it.

Wednesday, Councilman John Brown, D-at Large, told council members state law did not require their vote on the funds — so the city moved forward with creating the account.

Council simply tabled the legislation and will eliminate it from council records at the end of the year.

MORE MONEY

In the meantime, Warren last week learned it was awarded an additional $554,000 in Coronavirus Relief Fund money from the state, which again is to be used for coronavirus-related expenses.

The catch is this money must be encumbered — its use must be identified — by Oct. 15, according to Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert.

“The money must be spent by the end of the year,” Colbert said.

In addition to that money, the city also is expecting the state Legislature to approve an additional $1.3 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund money for Warren.

City Auditor Vince Flask said the city is trying to determine if these additional funds also must be encumbered by Oct. 15 and spent by year’s end.

“We don’t have a lot of time to determine how to use it,” Flask said. “We have not identified the specific uses for the majority of the $1.1 million.”

POSSIBLE USES

Flask said some of the money will be used to purchase items to help with social distancing, increasing sanitation by adding no-touch light switches and other devices, and purchasing more personal protective equipment.

The city also will be able to recoup some wage and fringe benefits, if the costs are related to COVID-19.

Some funds could be used by community organizations and businesses that have COVID-19-related expenses.

Colbert, Flask and other administration officials are working to develop specific plans for the money.

Brown, council’s finance committee chairman, emphasized the city must find ways to spend the funds by deadlines given to it by the state or they must be returned to the state.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, told council members to get the word out to their constituents — especially small businesses — about the possible availability of these funds to help them survive the pandemic.

“There were small businesses in the city that may not have gotten the funds made available through the program established through HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and ran by our Community Development department,” Rucker said. “This may be another opportunity.”

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