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W.Va. says COVID payroll money coming

PARKERSBURG — The state of West Virginia plans to begin reimbursing municipalities and counties for payroll expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parkersburg officials said last week they applied for more than $133,000 in reimbursements from funds awarded to the state through the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act, but so far received only $1,592.96 for supplies like hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. The rest was for payroll and benefits for workers for time spent on cleaning, training and police and fire responses to calls, which city officials said had to be treated as potential COVID-19-related encounters.

On Monday, Brian Abraham, general counsel for Gov. Jim Justice, said the state was still awaiting guidance on payroll reimbursements when the city applied.

“We advised the City of Parkersburg they would have to be considered at a later time,” he said.

Additional guidance was received last week and “Parkersburg will have salaries that qualify for that” reimbursement, said Abraham, who met with Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce in Parkersburg Friday, along with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy, to discuss the matter.

According to guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department, the money can be used for payroll and benefits of employees “whose work duties are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Abraham said pay for first responders like firefighters and police is presumed eligible, while other expenses can be covered if their connection to the pandemic can be demonstrated.

Joyce said he’s waiting to hear when the city will receive its reimbursements.

“Without substantial reimbursement for public safety payroll expenses, the City of Parkersburg is going to be facing some really tough decisions come the first quarter of the fiscal year,” which begins July 1, he said.

Parkersburg City Council already approved a number of budget cuts and revisions in anticipation of decreased tax and fee revenue due to businesses slowing down or closing and people being out of work during the pandemic. They included moving more than $1 million from the stabilization fund to the general fund.

The City of Vienna is waiting to hear back from the state about its reimbursement application, Mayor Randy Rapp said. Finance Director Amy Roberts said they requested $113,891.74 for police salaries and the fire chief, the only paid member of that department, along with $7,272.54 for supplies, including cleaning products and safety glass.

The application also included $77,329.18 in payroll expenses for employees who were told to stay home to facilitate social distancing or who could not come into the office or do their work from home, Robert said.

“This was just for their time off where we were keeping them on the payroll and continuing to pay them … and their benefits,” she said.

The City of Spencer has so far only applied for about $1,200 in reimbursements for cleaning materials, Mayor Terry Williams said. They plan on applying for salary reimbursements once additional guidelines are made available.

“The city’s big hit will be in business and occupation tax for the next quarter,” Williams said. “We’ve kept everybody employed, whether they worked at home or here.”

Toni Tiano, grant consultant for Wood County, said the county is applying for supply reimbursements as well, but is not sure about what payroll expenses are eligible.

Ravenswood Mayor Josh Miller said the city had some technology related expenses as it made its council meetings available online. He said he was awaiting more information before applying for other reimbursements.

Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford said the city applied for about $8,000 for equipment and supplies, but officials do not plan to seek payroll reimbursements.

“We felt that’s all we used, and we certainly don’t want more than our share,” she said.

Ford acknowledged the second quarter sales tax revenue will take a hit because of the reduction in business activity, perhaps not reaching half of the $80,000 taken in during the same period last year.

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