How do you spend $4.6 million?

That’s the question addressed last Friday morning at a meeting held at the new Webster County Justice Center that brought officials from all the county’s cities and villages together to learn the rules for disbursing the $4.6 million that the county received in federal C.A.R.E.S. Act funding late last month.

Present were appointed and elected officials from the cities of Fordland, Marshfield, Niangua, Rogersville and Seymour, as well as the village of Diggins, as well as several elected officials from Webster County, including Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser, who led the meeting.

Also on hand was attorney Travis Elliott, who recently was hired a special counsel for Webster County to determine the application process and rules for disbursement of the $4.6 million given by the federal government for COVID-19 assistance.

At the onset of Friday’s meeting, Berkstresser noted that the three-person Webster County Commission and County Clerk Stan Whitehurst still were working on the details of monetary disbursement.

“The C.A.R.E.S. Act was intended to supplement and reimburse costs associated with COVID-19,” he explained.

“Every entity in the room today is eligible for funding.

“The county’s intent is to create an infrastructure to distribute the federal funds sent to our county. But we’ve got to set up that infrastructure. And we’ve had to do it rapidly.”

Elliott noted that Missouri is the only state in the U.S. where counties have been given money to distribute.

“Your state is very unique in that regard,” he said.

“But this isn’t a money tree with no strings attached. This is federal money with lots of strings attached.”

“The best-case scenario is to give the money out to those who truly need it and qualify to receive it,” Berkstresser said.

“However, we truly are in uncharted waters right now. We are learning as we go, and we’re learning that those rules seem to be changing weekly and even daily.”

Berkstresser said Webster County will soon hire individuals to help administer C.A.R.E.S. Act funding.

“We encourage the cities to follow this example,” he said.

“In the structure that we’re setting up (in the county), the process will start with you, the cities.”

He explained that once the applications are finalized, they will be sent to the cities. Applications will originate with the cities, then will be sent to the county commission for final approval.

“(The county) will prioritize direct reimbursements,” he said. “Money spent directly on items related to COVID-19 will be the easiest to process.”

But the beginning of the process is with the cities. That’s where all applications will originate.

“Training will be available,” Berkstresser said. “And the personnel that you, the cities, hire for administration will be eligible for reimbursement (from C.A.R.E.S. Act funding). Ultimately, the money will be sent to the entities who receive funding by the cities.”

Two rounds of funding

The C.A.R.E.S. Act funding will be awarded in two different phases — Round 1 and Round 2.

In the first round, half of the federal funding, $2,322,466, will be awarded between June 15 and Sept. 15. The same amount will be awarded in the second round, which runs from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31.

Unveiled was a chart that noted the funding will be given to cities and rural Webster County based on population.

Rural Webster County receives the highest amount of funding in Round 1 at $1,480,073.29 with 23,071 residents in the 2010 federal census.

Next is the city of Marshfield at $425,526.68, followed by the city of Rogersville at $197,142.09.

The city of Seymour follows with $123,237.86, next is the city of Fordland at $51,322.38. The city of Niangua will receive $25,981.95, with the village of Diggins rounding out the list at $19,181.74.

“The application and approval process will be finalized within the next two weeks,” Berkstresser said.

“As you can see on the chart, funds are available to all entities based on population, as that is the fairest way. There will be two rounds of funding, with the first round kicking off on June 15. Ideally, and we are optimistic this is how it plays out, you will be able to start handing out and filling out applications on June 15.”

Elliott, who said he’s working with 32 counties in several states to create applications and rules for C.A.R.E.S. Act assistance, added that the cities and villages themselves can apply for funding, especially direct expenses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do feel that estimated lost revenue is off the table in terms of reimbursable expenses,” Elliott added.

“In essence, the state of Missouri received $2.1 billion in direct C.A.R.E.S. Act funding from the federal government. That’s the total pie. Of that, 25 percent went to the counties of this state, and Webster County’s share was $4.6 million. That’s a lot of money, and (the county) has a relatively short time to distribute all of it.”

At the end of the hour-long meeting last Friday, Berkstresser said the county would remain in close contact with all cities and villages as the county’s C.A.R.E.S. Act application was finalized.

Training sessions for the cities and villages soon will be established.

“At the end of the day, we want to see all of this money distributed to those who need it most,” he concluded.

“Any money that Webster County doesn’t spend will be sent back to the federal government. That’s how this program works. What isn’t spent will be returned.”

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