Posted by on January 22, 2021 4:58 am

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Categories: Coal Region Newswire Coal Region Newswire 2 Local News

schuylkill commissioners hire consulting firm

Schuylkill County Commissioners finally approved a new contract for a consulting firm they hired last year to help distribute and spend the $12.7 million in CARES Act funding.

The new 1-year/$50,000 contract goes to Susquehanna Accounting & Consulting Solutions Inc. for the period of Jan. 4-Dec. 31 of this year.

As expected, Commissioners Boots Hetherington and George Halcovage approved the contract. But minority Commissioner Gary Hess voted against it.

Schuylkill County Approves Renewal on CARES Act Consulting Firm

On Wednesday, during their regular weekly meeting, Hetherington seemed to have a little verbal defense prepared for why he thinks this company deserves another contract to extend the work they started last year.

The County’s STILL working on getting some CARES Act grants out to applicants.

Boots equated bringing on this firm for more work to hiring a roofer at his house but expecting the same price even if he wanted more roofing done.

And the County says that the contract may not be for the full $50,000. If Susquehanna completes its work early, the county can end the contract and not be out the full 50-grand.

Boots said Wednesday, as he has in the past, that the rules surrounding CARES Act spending are tricky and always changing.

Susquehanna, according to the Commissioners who approved this contract, apparently knows its way around the CARES Act rules better than the Commissioners.

They were apparently integral in determining what small businesses, non-profits and municipalities were eligible to receive money from a CARES Act grant fund the county established at the last possible minute last year, seemingly in response to growing public interest.

It’s funny though. Hetherington talks about how tricky the rules surrounding the CARES Act money going to small businesses are but they didn’t seem to be so tricky while the County spent the summer – since getting that $12.7 million windfall – blowing through it on some very questionable expenses, the one being very tenuously linked to the COVID pandemic at all.

For instance, the County had no problem dropping more than $6 million on upgraded equipment for the 9-1-1 system using that same CARES Act money that apparently has so much red tape around it. The County barely even tried to explain how that equipment was necessary in the fight against COVID locally. The mobile dispatch units, maybe, could be deemed necessary but again, very tenuously COVID-related.

By the end of the year, of course, the County opted against using the CARES Act money for that equipment. That’s because they needed a still-unknown amount – millions, for sure – of that same $12.7 million to make up for a massive budget shortfall. And the rules for using CARES Act money on expenditures like that, budget shortfalls for the next year, apparently are pretty clear.

When the County said it was using millions (well, they still haven’t said, but we presume it’s millions) of CARES Act money to plug a hole in the 2021 budget, it caused a Carbon County Commissioner to be like, “Whoa! WTH are those folks doing over there?”

For the record, Carbon Commissioner Chris Lukasevich actually said, “Bring on the auditors!”

Again, it’s funny (not in a hilarious way, but funny nonetheless) because when the county did OK using that CARES money on the 2021 budget, there was no prepared song-and-dance about how tricky the rules of the CARES Act were. They just proposed the spending, approved it, and moved on with business. The rules didn’t seem to be so tricky and complicated when it came to county spending on itself.

And apparently the rules on knowing how much of this money has actually been spent – like, the accounting rules on the CARES Act money – are pretty lax, too. Because every time it’s brought up, no one seems to have a straight answer on how any of this $12.7 million was spent.

Those rules only got tricky, apparently, when it came to these business grants that didn’t go above $35,000 a piece for any recipient. Even if some of the money given to businesses were found to be in violation of those apparently tricky rules, it’d be pennies compared to the massive amounts of questionable spending on County projects and expenses using that same fund under those same rules.

Remember, the Commissioners only gave out about 7% of that $12.7 million to small businesses in Schuylkill County. Much of that was because of the poor timing and execution of the grant program itself. There was no public announcement from the Commissioners themselves. The application for it was confusing and flawed. It caused a lot of problems. At one point, the Commissioners said that close to 90% of the applications had some error on it that needed adjustment.

Quick, Someone Cast the Statues of These Guys

But despite all that, every chance the Commissioners get to talk about the small business grants they’re reluctantly giving out, they way they tell it you’d swear they’re splitting atoms when they approve a single grant. And don’t you dare forget that unlike a lot of government programs that would just deny you and move on, they tried to work with the businesses they denied grants to get them some funding.

These guys want more than a medal for their work. Every time they talk about the grant program, it comes with some dog-and-pony routine about how much work they’re putting into it just to get some struggling businesses some money.

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