County leaders discuss the impact of COVID-19 with KET's Renee Shaw
Judge/Executive Gary Moore and Judge/Executive Mike Buchanon, representing Boone and Warren counties, respectively, both praised local efforts to help Kentuckians deal with the health and economic issues related to COVID-19, and everyone agreed that federal relief going directly to counties will be paramount to recovery efforts.
“We know the impacts are pretty deep,” said Moore, who serves as KACo president and first vice president for the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“Counties are on the frontlines in so many ways,” Moore added. “We have to answer the 911 calls. We have to continue to operate the jail, and the list goes on, so we can’t close. … We have to find ways to make this work.”
During the program, Moore told host Renee Shaw that NACo is tirelessly lobbying at the federal level to ensure that counties are supported should there be another revenue package. Counties and cities “have locked arms” to unite in these efforts, too, he said.
In Kentucky, Jefferson County is the only county to receive direct federal aid from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March. The legislation allocated $1.7 billion in aid to Kentucky, with counties over 500,000 population receiving a direct allocation.
“If Congress is to act on a state revenue replacement package, cities and counties should be a part of that, and cities and counties should get direct allocation,” Moore said. “Anytime the money is sent to the state to redistribute, (cities and counties) come up short.”
Buchanon echoed Moore’s comments about federal relief, and noted that a strategic reopening plan will be necessary to complement any federal relief counties receive.
“We are having to take a measured approach but a very deliberate approach – but very cautious – to maintaining the health, safety and welfare of the people of this region,” Buchanon said.
Warren County and much of western Kentucky have experienced large numbers of positive cases of COVID-19, and Buchanon said he’s hopeful that the rise in cases is reflective of the availability of more testing. The percentage of cases, he said, appears to be decreasing.
“That’s helpful in deciding the approach to open more safely,” Buchanon said.
Issues that were top priorities for counties heading into the recent legislative session like road funding and jail concerns were also discussed by the panel.
Buchanon shared that the regional jail in his county was proactive in offering telephonic visitations for both family members and attorneys, and social distancing best practices have been reinforced since mid-March.
“We’ve got a great jailer (Stephen Harmon), and he’s done a great job of taking care of (the jail),” Buchanon said.
Counties hurting with transportation infrastructure needs just want to get back to that point prior to COVID-19, Henderson said.
“Some of these counties won’t even be able to fund their road departments much less do any asphalt or repair work,” Henderson said. “Counties maintain half of all public roads in the state and two-thirds of the bridges. With this money drying up, it’s a real challenge, and we had that challenge before COVID-19. It’s just now made worse.
Henderson noted that counties understand federal funds would go toward COVID-19-related setbacks.
“Perhaps (it’s) the lifeline that many of these counties need to just keep whole and to just restore what they’ve spent or what they’ll lose in revenues.” Henderson said. “That’s all talking about this moment in time. It doesn’t even address the fact that many of these counties were struggling before COVID-19.”
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In a separate segment, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said his city, and cities across the country, are seeing a similar scenario to counties play out.
“What all cities and counties have in common is the devastation that’s taken place on our local budgets because our budgets are a function of the tax revenues we collect - payroll taxes or sales taxes,” Fischer said. “All those have really been hurt by the virus, and its endangering our very ability to deliver the types of services our people are counting on.”