With the deadline for disbursement of CARES Act funds quickly approaching, Meeker County Administrator Paul Virnig told the County Board Tuesday to expect "a lot of activity" in the next couple of weeks.
The county's CARES Act committee has a budget of about $3 million, with $2.94 million in allocations determined, but only about $1 million has been spent to this point. The remaining $2 million must be spent by Dec. 1 or it will be lost, according to federal requirements under the act.
As of Nov. 17, Meeker County Economic Development Authority has allocated $1.24 million in business grants, Virnig said, with about $730,000 in expenditures. The CARES Act committee was scheduled to meet again last week, following the County Board meeting to discuss further allocations.
"We really tried hard to get as much money as possible for businesses," Virnig said, but there remains about $250,000 that has not been allocated.
It's possible some townships or cities in the county could still submit their unallocated funds for the county, so the amount could grow.
Though all of the financial assistance for businesses should be welcomed, it likely still won't be enough, according to County Board member Beth Oberg. And the fact that there remains unallocated funding is not a fair representation of the stress many businesses are under.
And with COVID-19 cases rising throughout the state and Gov. Tim Walz's announcement of further restrictions on certain types of businesses, the stress only grows.
"Businesses are really, really hurting with these numbers," Oberg said. "It's nothing to do with the new guidelines. It's the new COVID numbers. In the next year, you're going to see some people who are really, really hurting if it doesn't get under control.
"Hard times are coming for businesses in Meeker County," she added.
Board member Mike Housman, a member of the county's CARES Act committee, said the group has worked hard to make sure businesses were getting as much assistance as possible. The committee established guidelines intended to help businesses be "made whole" while trying to avoid distributing money to undeserving applicants.
"I don't know what to tell you," Housman said. "We have a deadline."
Oberg said she hoped that if there was an opportunity to divide any unallocated CARES funds among business, that would be considered.
"This COVID thing is just going in the wrong direction in this county right now," Oberg said. "The PPE (personal protective equipment) money was fine, but that's gone. I don't know what's going to happen in the next nine to 12 months.
"I'm not saying I don't appreciate it," Oberg said of the grants. "I'm just saying that this isn't the true picture of what's been going on with businesses. Even though it looks good on paper now, it's not going to look so good six months from now."
In other CARES-related decisions, the County Board acknowledged with a unanimous vote the purchase of ultra-violet devices designed to kill germs for both the Meeker County jail and Meeker Memorial Hospital. Two units for the sheriff's department will cost approximately $114,000, with two hospital units costing about $188,000, Virnig said.
As the deadline approaches for all CARES Act disbursements, Virnig said the county is trying to get all invoices rounded up and paid before Dec. 1. However, some items — such as 29 laptops ordered to allow remote work — probably will not arrive in time.
As a contingency, Virnig said, the administration will start looking at salary reimbursements.