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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 by Ryan Thornton
County extends small cities relief deadline
Millions of dollars in pandemic relief funds may shortly be returned to the U.S. Treasury Department due to the failure of small cities in Travis County to provide documentation for the county’s $7.3 million small cities relief program. The Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to extend the program deadline to Nov. 10 to allow time for some of those cities to spend relief dollars and submit associated program documentation.
Of the county’s 21 municipalities outside of Austin, 17 signed interlocal agreements with the county to participate in the relief program while Elgin, Round Rock, Village of the Hills and Volente all declined. At this point, only three of those cities have submitted expenses and received the program’s 20 percent advance reimbursement. With the approaching Oct. 31 deadline, the cities of Bee Cave, Jonestown, Lago Vista, Rollingwood and West Lake Hills are now requesting extensions to finish spending their funds and submitting their forms.
“I am opposed to giving an extension to people that aren’t actively trying to spend the money,” County Auditor Patti Smith told the commissioners. “But those that are, I feel like they are really trying to make an effort now that the guidance is there and they’re up against the clock.”
The commissioners decided to allow an extension to Nov. 10 for the five cities that have requested more time. For all other cities, the Oct. 31 deadline stands.
The county did not recommend granting the extension requests, but suggested the date to submit documentation be set for Nov. 30 if the Commissioners Court chose to allow more time. The city of Rollingwood asked to have until Nov. 20 and Lago Vista requested a deadline of Dec. 15. Commissioner Margaret Gómez made a motion to allow 10 additional days for those who need a little extra time to finalize their paperwork.
All of the county’s $61 million in coronavirus relief funds must be spent by the end of the year. Commissioner Jeff Travillion articulated the need to leave ample time between the small cities deadline and the end of the year to redirect any unused program dollars into other county needs.
“I’m not comforted that if they’re not able to meet the deadline that we have been so explicit about … when they signed the agreement, that they are going to be able to meet a new deadline if it’s extended,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, seconding Gómez’s motion. “I’m not saying that anybody’s acting in bad faith; I just don’t want to extend a deadline if we made it super clear that this was the deadline … because otherwise it puts an enormous burden on us.”
Smith said the issue for some cities – like West Lake Hills and Rollingwood – has been the infrequency of local meetings as well as a lack of guidance for the program. Those cities are aiming to provide relief to their school districts, but guidance was only released in late September. “I know that they are scrambling to try to get the money out,” Smith said.
Nonetheless, Smith told the court that the small cities “have been more helpful and understand the process a lot better than the small businesses” and that those who have requested extensions should be able to submit documentation within the additional 10 days.
Smith, whose office is “bearing the brunt” of the program auditing and receiving bills, receipts and documentation, was initially opposed to an extension but quickly decided that spreading out the deadline wouldn’t necessarily overwhelm the office. Smith added, “Quite frankly, if everything comes in on Oct. 31, we’re slammed anyways.”
Julie Wheeler, the county’s intergovernmental relations officer, said the bulk of the program documentation is still likely to be submitted on Oct. 31. Following the Nov. 10 deadline, the county will study the program’s expenses and bring the court a presentation on any leftover funds on Nov. 24.
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and County Judge Sam Biscoe voted against the extension.
“It’s been a really difficult program and a really condensed program,” Daugherty said. “And I’m not happy with it.”
Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
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