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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

CARES Act Funding Can't Balance Hamilton County Budget

Sarah Ramsey

As expected, Hamilton County officials, for now, will not be able to use nearly $143 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help plug a revenue shortfall. 

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto said there was further guidance Thursday from the U.S. Treasury Department for using those dollars.

But he said there was some good news.

"Some of the allowable uses that we see, I think are going to allow us in certain places to use the funding flexibly enough to help us in some general fund and budget areas, although not as significantly as if we could use it for general budget stabilization," Aluotto said.

For now, the federal money must be spent on the county's direct expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic. Although those allowable uses are increasing.

Aluotto said it's still unclear whether the county can help other local governments with their expenses related to the crisis.

"It didn't exactly say that; it said that the state is able to grant some of its dollars to communities under 500,000," Aluotto said. "It did not speak specifically to the issue of a direct allocation community's ability to do that. So, we're going to keep asking that question."

The county is a direct allocation community because its population is greater than 500,000.

County officials have praised the federal help, but they've been asking to use the money for other budget issues. Earlier this week, the county estimated it had spent $4 million to $5 million directly on the COVID-19 response.

Deters Announces Cuts

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced Thursday he's cutting his office budget by 10% to help with the county's budget problems.

Deters, in a written statement, said the cuts would be a combination of furloughs and salary cuts.

Some employees will be furloughed for two week and others for three months.  The statement did not say how many employees will be impacted.

Employees who can't be furloughed, will take a pay cut, including Deters himself.

"This office is unique in that we literally must staff every courtroom for the judges. We need a minimum amount of prosecutors to be able to do our job," Deters said. "My decision today not only affects my staff but also the public we serve. Rest assured that we remain as dedicated as ever to making sure that we do our job to keep Hamilton County a safe community."

So far county departments and offices have trimmed about $26 million from this year's county budget. The projected revenue shortfall is between $40 and $60 million.