Carteret County uses $1.3M in CARES funding for tech, COVID-19 compliance

People chat in the breezeway of the Carteret County administration complex in Beaufort Thursday. (Elise Clouser photo)

BEAUFORT — Of the more than $1.3 million Carteret County recently received in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding, officials say the majority is going toward purchasing new technology to bring the county into compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Carteret County received $1,380,349 in CARES Act funding, which was passed through the state before being made available to local governments. County Finance Director Dee Meshaw said she had to provide a rough outline of how the county plans to spend the money before the state released the funds around the beginning of June.

“The plan you submit to the state is extremely vague, so the state will be following up with all the counties to get more detailed information as time goes on,” she told the News-Times in a phone interview Tuesday.

Ms. Meshaw said the bulk of the CARES Act funds are going to new technology purchases, including laptops, tablets and software, so county staff can telework. She said the county already spent more than $500,000 of the sum on hardware.

“We’re primarily going to use our funding for technology needs, and we are putting our money in the category ‘Expenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures,’” she said. “…We just did not have the technology for everybody to be able to do the telecommute, teleworking from home and offsite. We were just struggling and trying to juggle schedules and everything else, so we’re going to buy laptops, iPads, licenses for software … it’s a lot of that technology.”

Ms. Meshaw said as of Tuesday, most of the items were ordered and some had started to arrive. Before receiving the CARES Act funds, the county spent around $5,000 on software licensing for Zoom, but otherwise hadn’t made any new technology purchases since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“A lot of places are trying to get their technology infrastructure up to speed, that’s what we’re doing too,” Ms. Meshaw said.

Some of the CARES Act funds will also be used to replace the carpet in the detention center with a hard surface that is easier to sanitize. Ms. Meshaw said that and the technology purchases are to help bring the county into compliance with COVID-19 guidelines for cleaning and social distancing. 

The CARES Act funds can also be used to buy personal protective equipment, but Ms. Meshaw said the state is encouraging local governments to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse PPE.

“We’re pushing that to FEMA like they want us to do so that this money is stretched as far as it can and can be used for things the FEMA funding is not paying for,” she said. “All of our PPE has gone through (FEMA).”

Ms. Meshaw said Carteret County was the first local government in North Carolina to get a FEMA reimbursement.  The county received about $41,000 from FEMA for PPE, as well as funds for cleaning supplies and staff overtime, and Ms. Meshaw said the county will continue to submit items for further reimbursement.

“I don’t know what it says about us that we have so much experience with FEMA,” she joked.

The CARES Act funds cannot be used to make up lost sales tax revenues, something Ms. Meshaw said the state is strongly emphasizing to local governments that receive the money. Also, any unspent funds as of Wednesday, Dec. 30 must be returned to the state.

Ms. Meshaw said the county does not plan to distribute any of the CARES Act funds to municipalities. However, she said the state is still holding an unknown sum of money that may eventually be distributed to local governments.

“The county is the one that is accountable to the state, we’re the ones that will be audited by the state and if any of it is not appropriate, we’re the ones that have to pay it back. The state still has money that they’re holding that they haven’t released to local governments. There’s more money there, but I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.”

 

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt. 

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