Suburban municipalities whose operating budgets were slammed by a double whammy of lost revenues and additional expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency conditions it triggered are about to get some relief.
As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Cook County received $429 million in funding, a portion of which it is distributing to the Cook County suburbs.
On July 8, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the county had set aside $51 million to reimburse suburbs for COVID-19 related expenses, with 134 communities each being allocated a share based on a formula that included population, median income, COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, per capita tax base and the percentage of the local population living in disinvested areas.
“COVID-19 hit Black and Latinx communities in Cook County the hardest,” said Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, whose 1st District includes part of North Riverside, in a press release. “The equitable lens used to provide much-needed funding to those communities was essential.”
Brookfield has been allocated $449,242, while North Riverside is eligible for up to $186,278 in COVID-19-related reimbursement. Riverside has been allocated up to $124,718.
“We’re assembling a list of hard costs and soft costs, and we hope to get our full allocation,” said Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg. “Right now, our biggest need is our lost revenues [due to COVID-19’s impact on commerce], and no one has come up with anything to replace those revenues. But, every little bit helps, and this will help a great deal to recoup our costs.”
Wiberg said the village board at its July 27 meeting is slated to pass a resolution entering into an intergovernmental agreement with the county in order to apply for reimbursement for COVID-related expenses.
The Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to approve the agreement at its meeting on July 16, and North Riverside Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti said trustees there are expected to approve the agreement at their Aug. 3 meeting.
Cook County will allow municipalities to cast a wide net in claiming reimbursement for expenses. Those include everything from medical transport of COVID-19 patients to the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for police, paramedics, firefighters; expenses for disinfecting public buildings and other facilities and for taking public safety measures in response to the pandemic.
Villages can also claim payroll expenses for public safety personnel whose jobs “are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” according to the county.
“During the three months [mid-March through mid-June], a lot of our time was spent on COVID-related matters,” said Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances.
Scarpiniti said she plans to submit claims for overtime incurred by administrative staff and the fire department related to the emergency.
Other expenses eligible for reimbursement include those allowing public employees to work remotely, which likely also would include expenses related to setting up satellite police stations.
Municipalities can also be reimbursed for economic incentives it provided to local businesses that had to close due to the stay-at-home order. Riverside, for example, waived liquor license fees in 2020.
But there is some uncertainty about just what eventually will qualify, since the county is requiring municipalities to first submit reimbursement claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While FEMA will reimburse only 75 percent of costs, villages can seek the other 25 percent reimbursement through the Cook County CARES Act. But there’s some question as to whether the county will allow reimbursement for expenses that FEMA denies.
“We haven’t gotten answers to that yet,” Scarpiniti said.
Frances said officials in Riverside began adding up COVID-19 expenses early on, even before the pandemic swept through the area in March.
“From the start we’ve been collecting data — time, equipment purchases, allocation of staff, contractual services, supplies,” Frances said. “We started tracking it when it began. We were as prepared as you could be.”
Frances said the village’s risk management agency, IRMA, has already reimbursed Riverside for some of the cost of PPE it purchased, but added that “it’s our intention is to submit for the entire” [$124,718] being allocated by the county to Riverside.
Riverside Finance Director Karin Johns said the village will begin submitting reimbursement requests to FEMA and Cook County monthly beginning at the end of July.
Johns said last week she didn’t have ballpark figure for the total amount of Riverside’s COVID-related expenses, but she said it “absolutely” surpassed the amount the county’s CARES Act allocation.