Out of the blue Wednesday, Schuylkill County Commissioner Boots Hetherington announced the Courthouse will finally divulge how it spent the $12.7 million it got in 2020 from the CARES Act federal COVID relief legislation.
He announced the county could even have a press conference to discuss the matter that it has hid from the public for about a full year.
But for whatever reason, the Commissioners are now ready to talk about how they spent that money. They’ve been able to cook these particular books for about a year, so the meat’s going to be real tender.
Schuylkill County Will Disclose CARES Act Spending
We’re expecting quite a tall tale from Boots and his administration next week. It’s hard to find anything truthful in our archives related to Schuylkill County’s CARES Act spending and how the government says it spent the money. Why start now?
So, whatever is said next week at what’s sure to be a dog-and-pony show, will only be the latest version of the “truth”.
Any variation from what’s already been said about the CARES Act money would obviously be a lie, either what’s been said, what they’ll say, or both. Smart money’s on both.
After all, these details should be abundantly clear already. The money is long gone. It had to be spent by the end of 2020.
If the Courthouse was as transparent as Boots would want you to believe, we wouldn’t be forced to wait until mid-July 2021 to find out how the CARES Act money was spent. It would have been clearly spelled out in meeting agendas and a Treasurer’s report.
But there’s been none of that.
How Did Schuylkill County Spend Its CARES Act Money?
The few things we’re almost certain were purchased using that $12.7 million windfall were the following:
- A nominal portion toward small businesses, non-profits, and municipal grants.
- A new HVAC system for Schuylkill County prison.
- PPE for various government departments.
- Some technology upgrades the County says were needed to increase bandwidth and make virtual work a little more possible.
- Automatic flushing toilets and hands-free water fountains.
But that represents just a fraction of the money the County received, about one-quarter of it. The remaining $8 million is a bit of a mystery.
At first, the County said it was going to use about $6-7 million of that money on a major upgrade to the 9-1-1 system to prepare it for the possibility of a COVID-related shutdown of its headquarters in Pottsville.
But then the County said it wasn’t going to spend the CARES Act money on that project. Instead, it floated 2 bonds to cover the cost, plunging the County into debt to fund a project that no one is certain was absolutely necessary. It was called a “broadband project” but not one person in Schuylkill County has broadband because of it.
Then, late last year, as the County was finalizing its spending plan for this year, Commissioner Gary Hess referenced that $8 million or so and said it was good to have that in order to fill a massive shortfall in the budget. That money was used to plug that hole and avoid a tax increase.
Cooking the Books?
So, any straying from that storyline means someone is lying about how the money was spent or they’re all lying about it.
But which story will be true? Any?
A source familiar with inside discussions about the topic tells us that County officials have been told that some of the expenses using the CARES Act money go against the rules for the money. That would result in us having to repay that money and it’s likely the Commissioners will have to increase property taxes to cover the loss.
It would seem that calling a press conference or making a pre-planned public statement to announce how the CARES Act money was spent – something not really necessary from a ceremonial standpoint – is going to be used as a way to cover for how the money was spent.
Next week, expect the County to announce that all is hunky-dory with how it spent that $12.7 million last year … just don’t believe a word they say.