County Commission President Offers Caution On Reopening

Apr 20, 2020

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is expected to outline more details this week as the state prepares to gradually reopen starting May 1

Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus knows many people are anxious for things to restart.

"My concern is that we ramp up too quickly, by way of these openings, I know we all want to do this and I think there's a strategic and smart way to do that and I think we've heard Governor DeWine actually say that," Driehaus said. "And so, we will follow the lead of the governor and public health officials as to how we open up and how quickly we open up."

Driehaus said some businesses say they can survive one reopening but may not make it through another shutdown if COVID-19 cases rapidly increase and require another stay-at-home order.

Driehaus said there needs to be more testing capacity in the county. She said that's one element that needs to be in place before a "full scale reopening."

Meanwhile, Hamilton County is still trying to get flexibility on spending up to $143 million in federal aid. But right now, it can only be used directly on the COVID-19 response.

"$143 million, and we've spent about $4 or $5 million right now," Driehaus said. "It's just frustrating.  We are trying to do what we can in that space, but also get some flexibility again so we can help in other spaces."

The county has used some of those funds to buy personal protective equipment, to assist in housing homeless families in hotels and motels, and purchased some equipment for the Emergency Communications Center to allow personnel there to work at different locations if it becomes necessary.

Officials would like to use some of the federal money to help close a hole in this year's county budget because of declining sales tax revenues and other income. They're lobbying federal officials for that flexibility.

Driehaus said short of that, the county would like to provide relief to other governments in Hamilton County for their spending on COVID-19.

"I would like to have the ability to sub-grant to them as it relates to what they've spent during this crisis," Driehaus said. "I don't know if we can help in every case, but because it's restricted money. But I'd like to have the capacity to do that."

The county is also lobbying federal officials about that issue, too.

Driehaus said county departments and independent elected officials are submitting their "strategies" to help close the county budget gap.  That will include employee furloughs and using restricted money to cover some spending.

Driehaus promised more specifics on those efforts Wednesday.