Schuylkill County Commissioners finally released details of how they spent the $12.7 million in CARES Act spending received last summer to help combat the COVID pandemic.
We say finally because it took quite a long time to get these numbers.
In that time, voices among county watchdogs were raised to 11. Some media outlets were following the story rather vigorously. Others, well … they reported on it when they saw those other outlets getting a lot of attention.
And despite this constant needling, which started soon after the money was first deposited in the bank last year, it took until mid-July of the following year to get any sort of concrete data.
That’s a lot of money that conceivably was going unchecked. Presumably, only a handful of people at the Courthouse knew how it was being spent. Even one County Commissioner claimed to be in the dark on where the money was going or where it went.
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We sat in the Courthouse for about 3 hours on Wednesday to hear an explanation of this spending.
And it boiled down to this on why the County couldn’t say last year where any of this money was going.
Hell, even money the Commissioners spent last year that they said was coming from the CARES Act money ultimately didn’t come from that fund, like the small business grant program.
Essentially, the County couldn’t accurately report on how it’d spent this money because it didn’t know until they filled out the final paperwork for it.
Now, if we’re going to believe that the rules for how this money could be spent ultimately determined why Schuylkill County is saying it dished out the money as it did, that’s fine. County officials said constantly changing rules on how CARES Act money could be spent made it impossible to say for sure what was eligible.
“Because it did.”
So, that’s a somewhat valid explanation for why it took the County to file a report with the state on how its CARES Act money was spent.
But as long as it took for Schuylkill County to gather these numbers, the report we all got this week wasn’t exactly hot off the press.
According to Mark Morgan, a consultant with Susquehanna Accounting and Consulting which helped us administer the CARES Act funding, the report the media got on Wednesday was actually finished in February.
“The final reports to the states were due Feb. 28,” he said.
Morgan said he met and prepared Schuylkill County’s final report on Feb. 17.
That prompted a question from the Times-News that completely sucked the air out of the room. If the Schuylkill County report to the state was finished in mid-February, why are we only hearing about it in mid-July?
We counted 8 seconds of a really awkward silence following that question.
One Mississippi … Two Mississippi …
It was really awkward. You could hear the faintest stomach growl because it was well into lunchtime.
The county’s response? It came from County Administrator Gary Bender.
He said, “Because it did.”
Trying to pick up the pieces after that, Morgan said the County didn’t divulge its spending to the public until it had heard from the state that it was OK with how the CARES Act money was given out locally.
“I would have hated to have put information out and go back and revise it,” he said.
We’re not sure if he meant to say that the County was only going to divulge this information if the state was OK with it. The public surely has a right to know if the money was mismanaged, too.
He also said that the state got back to Schuylkill County with its determination in March. So, that’s still about 4 months worth of sitting on it.