DuPage officials debate: Should COVID-19 relief money cover all police, fire costs?

 
 
Updated 6/23/2020 8:51 PM

DuPage County officials are balking at the idea of allowing municipalities to use federal coronavirus money to pay all their costs for police and firefighter salaries.

County board members have agreed to set aside up to $43 million to reimburse cities and villages for COVID-19-related expenses. The money will come from $161 million the county received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While board members support giving CARES Act money to towns, there is a disagreement on how it can be spent.

County officials say the money is supposed to be for necessary or unanticipated expenses incurred due to the pandemic. Eligible expenditures must be made between March 1 and Dec. 30.

In a memorandum, Robert Larsen, chairman of the county board's finance committee, said municipalities will need to document their expenses to be reimbursed. He said the requests will be reviewed by the county auditor, finance department and "a third-party firm with federal grant and audit experience."

In his memo, the Wheaton Republican said "100% of public safety payroll will not be accepted as an allowable expense."

Officials reached that conclusion based on advice from the county's auditor and federal lobbyist, he said.

"A percentage of public safety payroll based upon the actual number of COVID-related calls received by a municipality and time spent on 'substantially dedicated' COVID duties will be permitted," Larsen wrote.

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If that direction is followed, municipal leaders say reimbursable expenses for their towns "will fall well short" of what they expect to receive.

"The municipalities request that the county distribute funds for public safety-related expenses according to the U.S. Treasury guidance without any further restrictions or limitations," said Steve Chirico, president of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference.

His statement was read during Tuesday's finance committee meeting.

Chirico, the mayor of Naperville, quoted a U.S. Treasury document that reads, in part: "a state, territorial, local, or tribal government may presume that payroll costs for public health and public safety employees are payments for services substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency ..."

County board members had a lengthy discussion about the topic.

Several said they believe municipalities should be allowed to use the money for their full public safety payroll.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They also said the towns will have an intergovernmental agreement with the county and be required to repay the federal government for any expenses that are later deemed ineligible for reimbursement.

"Because of this global pandemic, the need is great across our municipalities, the county, the state ...," said board member Dawn DeSart, an Aurora Democrat. "I don't want to tie the hands of our municipalities."

But board member Jim Zay said DuPage is reimbursing county departments, including the sheriff's office, only for documented COVID-19 expenses.

"We're asking all our departments to do the same thing we're asking the municipalities to do," the Carol Stream Republican said. "Make sure it's documented and it passes the test."

Board member Sam Tornatore said he would like to see the municipalities receive the entire $43 million. But, he said, "I need to see expenses."

"That has always been our position," the Roselle Republican said. "It shouldn't change because the municipalities feel that they're entitled to a blanket check for everything they've spent that's public safety related."

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