Richland County courthouse

Richland County Courthouse

MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners will proceed with a plan to fund mobile internet hotspots for local students, despite new guidance from the federal government that puts some of the funds at risk.

New instructions now say any local governments spending coronavirus relief funds must receive all goods or have all services performed by Dec. 30, which calls into question contracts that extend into 2021.

The federal government sent the revised guidance on Sept. 2, creating what Commissioner Tony Vero called a "substantive" change.

In July, commissioners approved spending up to $500,000 on mobile internet hotspots local students could use to better facilitate online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for a school year that extends several months into 2021.

If state auditors next year determine the hotspot program is not an allowable use of CARES Act funds beyond Dec. 31, the county could be required to cover about $280,000 for the program.

Vero said last week that commissioners approved the plan under the guidance as it existed at the time.

All three commissioners agreed Thursday, during a discussion with county Auditor Pat Dropsey, to continue the program, which is being used by 18 schools or districts in the county.

"We did everything like we're supposed to do. Then they changed the rules," Commissioner Darrell Banks. "This is probably helping more people than anything else we have done (with CARES Act funds)."

Commissioner Marilyn John said, "Why would we have thought they would change the guidance?"

Dropsey recommended the county continue with the program, even if it leads to a finding for recovery in the next state audit.

"We are helping the community. Even if the auditors come back and slam us, we have enough of a balance to offset it. Continue doing what you are doing," Dropsey said.

Dropsey said last week he had never seen a grant program where the rules constantly change.

"I have no problem speaking the truth," he said then. "I will look (state auditors) in the eye and tell them ... when the commissioners passed their resolution (for the hotspots), that guidance did not exist."

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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?"