City captures COVID relief funds with emergency services swap
Local governments rarely find themselves with more money than they can spend. But that is the quandary the City of Sammamish faced as a deadline loomed to take advantage of $2.9 million in COVID-19 relief reimbursements.
Rather than see the City’s reimbursement options limited to COVID costs incurred between March 1 and November 30, as the state has mandated, the City preserved funding for future expenses by funneling its full reimbursement allotment to Eastside Fire and Rescue (EFR). This maneuver frees up $2.9 million from the City’s general fund that was originally budgeted for the City’s contract with EFR.
The City has already spent more than $1 million from the general fund to award COVID relief grants to businesses and nonprofits and support the City’s transition to telework – a sum that will be offset and then some by the $2.9 million the City will now save on its EFR contract.
City staff worked closely with the state Department of Commerce to confirm that they are allowed to funnel COVID reimbursement funds to emergency services providers such as EFR. The funding comes from $400 million that Washington state received through the federal CARES Act.
The Sammamish City Council unanimously approved the maneuver at its October 7 meeting, but before voting, the Council debated what sort of safeguards to put in place to ensure the money will be awarded in a timely fashion on COVID-related expenses, and not disappear into the general fund.
Councilmember Pam Stuart proposed setting a hard deadline for awarding the funds, requiring bi-weekly progress reports and making a formal commitment to using the funds solely for COVID relief.
“We either have a need and we spend it on that need or we don’t have a need and we make sure the money goes where it needs to be,” she said.
But other council members were leery of setting a spending deadline given the uncertainty of future federal funding and the unknown effects of COVID’s second wave.
“If we need it quickly, spend it quickly. If we need it slowly, then we can spend it slowly,” said Councilmember Ken Gamblin. By refraining from a deadline, “We keep all of our options open.”
Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow said that setting a deadline now would be arbitrary and unnecessary since the Council always has the power to do so at a later date.
The Council ultimately rejected setting a deadline, but agreed to monthly reporting and committed to dedicating all of the funds to COVID relief.