berrien county administration center

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County commissioners heard good and bad news Thursday concerning the state’s efforts to fill a budget hole caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that on Aug. 31, the county received almost $1.4 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Local Government Grants fund, which is federal money from the CARES Act.

The bad news is that the money replaces the county’s August revenue sharing payment, which was expected to be $891,537. Since the CARES Act money can only be spent on coronavirus activities, this leaves a potential hole in the county’s general fund budget to pay for other things.

Douglas James, financial services director for the county, spoke to commissioners during the finance committee meeting, which meets before the county board’s regular weekly meeting.

“Yes, there were plans to spend the revenue sharing funds for something other than coronavirus relief, but this is what they did and so we have to try to deal with the cards that have been dealt to us,” he said.

Administrator Brian Dissette said that the county’s hole will be partially filled because they have tracked $490,865 that has been spent on coronavirus activities since a state of emergency was declared mid-March. He said that the money from the CARES Act can be used to reimburse the general fund for those expenses.

“This is less than ideal, but it’s far from a bad situation,” Dissette said.

Commissioners approved creating a CARES Act line item in the county budget to better track the money and how it is spent. Dissette said the county expects to add more money to that line item as the state releases money for two other CARES Act programs that pay first responders for hazard pay, plus reimburse public safety and public health workers for COVID-19 expenses.

“We anticipate that more dollars are coming,” he said. “It is noted ... that should a second stimulus round hit, that even additional dollars will come.”

Commissioner Bob Harrison said that what the state is doing is no surprise.

“This is part of the shell game the state is playing to balance the current year budget and push some stuff off into next year,” he said.

Dissette said he wanted to bring commissioners up to speed over what is happening with revenue sharing from the state as they prepare to hold budget hearings next week, for the 2021 budget year.

The hearings will be held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, starting at 8:30 a.m. each day. The budget is expected to be further discussed during the county’s finance committee meeting at 9 a.m. Sept. 17, followed by the commissioners’ weekly meeting at 10:30 a.m.

County commission meetings can be watched on YouTube on the County of Berrien page.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege