County set to accept $73.8 million in new federal aid, BOC weighs spending options

·3 min read

Jun. 7—MARIETTA — The Cobb Board of Commissioners is expected to cash a $73.8 million check from the federal government at its Tuesday meeting.

The funds arriving are the first half of local assistance provided through the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March by President Joe Biden. The county will receive another $73.8 million in 12 months. The funds follow the $132 million awarded to Cobb under the 2020 CARES Act, which the county finished allocating in April.

With the expected acceptance of the new federal aid, commissioners and staff will set about deciding how to allocate the pile of federal cash. The funds can be used to address expenses and programs responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a new provision, local governments can also put the funds toward investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Commissioners are likely to be deluged in requests for funding in the coming months. Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said at a work session Monday she has been "continually" receiving requests since the start of the year, with County Manager Jackie McMorris adding she has a "running tally" of the various asks. Among those she's already received are requests for more resources from the county's court systems.

Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Leonard told the MDJ Monday one of his priorities is building out and furnishing a 12th courtroom in the Superior Courthouse, in a currently unfinished area of the building's fifth floor. At present, each jury trial is requiring two courtrooms to accommodate social distancing guidelines while still providing enough space for spectators.

Leonard said in an email, "(The 12th courtroom) will be used as a public viewing space for up to two simultaneous trials. It's also a win-win because after the pandemic is past us and the court qualifies for the next judge,"—i.e., when a 12th judge is added to the Superior Court bench—"the county will not have to build it out with general fund money."

RENTAL ASSISTANCE

In addition to the $73.8 million in direct aid, Cobb is also receiving another $7.24 million from the federal government to top off its emergency rental assistance program.

In February, the board allocated nearly $23 million out of CARES Act funds to five non-profits which provide rental assistance in Cobb: Star-C, Home Free, MUST Ministries, Sweetwater Mission, and the Center for Family Resources. The vast majority of that assistance, however, has yet to be distributed.

Per County Finance Director Bill Volckmann, less than $3.5 million of the $23 million appropriated in March has been doled out by the five non-profits. Each non-profit received $4,484,652.52 from the county to disburse to households in need, but has thus far used the following amounts:

—Star-C: $496,800

—Home Free: $500,000

—MUST Ministries: $237,559.55

—Center for Family Resources: $897,811.15

—Sweetwater Mission: $1,255,245.93

Volckmann told commissioners at a work session Monday morning they will not be committing to spending the additional $7.24 million, but only accepting the money from the federal government should they need it in the future.

The Board of Commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at 100 Cherokee Street in Marietta.