DALLAS — A longstanding pursuit of Polk County’s share of COVID-19 relief funds approved in the federal CARES Act continues as the state and county are unable to see eye-to-eye on an agreement to receive the money.
In March, Congress passed the CARES Act to assist people, states, and local governments during the pandemic, but to date, Polk County hasn’t been reimbursed for its costs, now at more than $900,000.
County Administrator Greg Hansen said the state has approved the county’s expenditures, but will not release the money until after the county approves a grant agreement. Polk County and several other counties object to several terms in the agreement.
“Polk County’s position is that the agreement is very one-sided and puts requirements on the county which are not necessary and/or not required by the CARES Act,” Hansen said. “On top of the fact that the state has already approved our expenditures and the county has attested to its accuracy, Polk County sees very little need to have a 21-page document which holds counties ransom.”
The process began in early May, when the state sent the county a reimbursement form for coronavirus-related expenditures. The county had until May 22 to complete the form, and it was submitted on May 20. The county claimed $503,625 in expenses.
Hansen said the state accepted and approved the expenses in early June, but then required the county to sign a grant agreement before reimbursing the expenses. By mid-June Polk and other counties found the agreement unsatisfactory and appoint county attorneys to renegotiate it with the state.
On June 24, Stephen Madkour, the president of the Oregon County Counsels Association sent Gerald Floyd with the state’s Department of Administrative Services a letter listing the issues with the agreements sent to counties.
“As you know County Administrators have already signed an agreement to only expend funds as allowed by the CRF (CARES Act),” Madkour wrote. “In addition we have reviewed the advice provided by the United States Treasury and are unable to find any requirement that the State of Oregon has an obligation or the authority to require local governments to sign an agreement with the State in order to receive CRF.”
Madkour said Multnomah and Washington counties were subject to similar conditions, but after objecting, received the money with no conditions. He added the state of Washington did not impose conditions on local governments either.
Madkour asked the state to explain its basis for requiring conditions on the relief funds.
“In addition to the concern about the State’s authority to require local governments to sign the grant, here are some of the concerns about specific terms included in the grant,” Madkour wrote.
He listed several provisions in the agreement as objectionable, including: a requirement that counties give the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) any information it requests; that DAS can require any county employee undergo a criminal background check; a provision that allows the state many remedies if the county fails to meet it’s obligations, but gives counties little recourse if the state fails to meet obligations; and the ability for the state to withhold funds it determines are misallocated without a dispute resolution process.
“It makes no legal sense to have the state make decisions about the counties’ CRF, and then make the counties legally liable not only to the federal government but the state of Oregon,” Madkour said.
He asked the state to drop the requirement that counties sign the grant agreement to receive CARES Act money.
Hansen said that representatives from the county counsel association and the state met in early July to renegotiate terms, and a revision of the agreement was sent to counties on July 13. However, Polk County was sent the wrong agreement.
At the same time, Polk County submitted a second form for reimbursement, this time for $412,990, which was accepted on July 14. That brings the county’s total COVID-19 related expenditures to $916,615.
On July 15, the state sent the county the correct agreement, but it has only minor modifications. County officials still object to some of its provisions. However, Hansen believes they will have to approve some form of the agreement eventually.
“To date, Polk County has not signed the agreement, but will most likely have to sign so we can recover our costs associated with COVID-19,” Hansen said on Monday.