Tony Vero

Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero said Thursday rules guiding how local governments can spend millions of dollars in federal  American Rescue Plan funds are more restrictive than he had imagined.

Vero said he read the 151 pages of guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury Dept., outlining how the most recent COVID-19 relief funds approved by Congress can be spent.

"I was surprised that's more restrictive than I anticipated," Vero said, just before commissioners passed a resolution authorizing Auditor Pat Dropsey to certify the county's request for the funds.

"If you look at the language, they say you can pretty much use the monies in a similar manner as the (2020) Coronavirus Relief Act. As we move out of the pandemic and Ohio opens more as a state, expenditures (directly) related to the pandemic are not going to be as significant," Vero said.

Richland County will receive $23.4 million as part of the $350 billion set aside the plan for state and local governments in the ARP. Half of the money should arrive in the next several weeks and the second half would come around the same time in 2022.

"The rationale behind that is the (federal government) belief is a community's needs may change in a year, which I don't disagree with," Vero said.

The Treasury Department instructions were labeled as "interim final rules," which Vero laughingly called an oxymoron.

"I'm not criticizing. I understand if you're going to receive $23.4 million, the federal government is going to have a serious say in how you (spend it). So I am not complaining, per se," Vero said.

The county will have four years to obligate the funds and two years after that to complete projects using the funds.

"I am pretty confident we will be able to spend the money," Vero said. "I am not saying we will do this, but let's say we look at expanding high-speed internet to areas of the county that are underserved or unserved. That gets eaten up pretty quick. A major project can take a large portion of these funds."

Commissioners approved the resolution for Dropsey at the auditor's request. He will need to log into the Treasury Department portal and enter his personal social security number, driver's license number and photo, a federal requirement in order to receive the funds, which will go into a new special revenue fund he and Dropsey created.

The long-time auditor said he was not happy that his own personal information had to be used in the process.

"I've had to use my own social security number in the past (for such grants), but never had to use my picture or driver's license number. I know (commissioners) are going to take care of the community with this money and it doesn't do our community any good if we get into a fight over who is going to have to put in their personal information.

"I am not happy about it, but it's all part of the game. So I look at it as part of my job," Dropsey said, adding he has heard similar concerns from other county auditors.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"