County approaches CARES grant warily
All the strings attached to an $8.93 million coronavirus grant could ensnare Douglas County in a federal audit if officials aren’t careful.
“With this money comes a lot of risks,” County Manager Patrick Cates told commissioners last week. “It’s a lot of money, probably more than the county will need for expenses.”
Because the CARES Act was approved so quickly the rules are basically left to the county’s reasonable judgment.
“We don’t know what that means until a federal auditor pays a visit,” Cates said. “We could have federal auditors say, “Nope, that doesn’t look reasonable to us. We have to be very careful how we administer these funds and that the connection to COVID 19 is very well documented.”
He said the county set up a project code for virus-relate expenses as soon as the Act was approved.
Generally, expenditures so far have been related to buying and installing plexiglass barriers in county offices.
The grant must be used by Dec. 31, further complicating the effort to spend the money.
Cates said the county hasn’t laid anyone off due to the coronavirus and no county employees have turned up positive for the virus, though some have been tested.
While the county could share the money with other governmental entities, it would still be responsible for those expenditures.
The money can only be used for expenditures directly related to the outbreak and can’t be used to make up shortfalls in government revenue.
Cates said the county could consider establishing grants to small businesses that had expenses related to the economic shutdown or operating during the outbreak.
“We have a lack of resources or knowledge in administrating a new subgrant program,” Cates said.
County Commissioner Wes Rice suggested hiring someone to coordinate expenditures, which would be reimbursable under the grant.
Clark County hired a consultant to operate a grant program in Southern Nevada, but Cates said setting up such a program in six months could be difficult.
“The likelihood is we will end up returning a big chunk of this money because we don’t have time to administrate it all,” he said.