By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton will receive more than $1 million in relief from the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski announced at the May 26 supervisors meeting.
Federal funds will be distributed by the state of Virginia to Northampton and other localities on the condition that they give an “equitable share” to their incorporated towns.
Northampton’s incorporated towns include Exmore, Nassawadox, Eastville, Cheriton, and Cape Charles.
Many Virginia localities are dividing up the relief funds based on either sales tax revenue or population.
Based on sales taxes, Northampton’s incorporated towns would get 12% of the money, or about $160,000. Based on population, the towns would get 30% of the money, or about $299,000.
COVID-19 has made a “significant impact” on the towns, but the county needs to make many improvements to facilities that “provide services throughout the county … not just to residents living out-side the towns,” Kolakowski said.
Northampton’s administration building, courthouse, social services building, sheriff ’s office, and jail all need health and safety improvements.
“We’re really just scratching the surface on that,” he said.
The county is considering using the money to provide grants to businesses that need financial assistance to survive the coronavirus pandemic. However, if the funding distribution is based on population and the towns get more money, the towns should be responsible for offering financial assistance to their own businesses, and the county would assist businesses outside the towns, Kolakowski said.
Based on population, Exmore alone would get $118,000, he said.
The county is also considering hazard pay or a stipend for “first responders” or essential employees, including sheriff ’s deputies, jail employees, and EMS workers “who are out on the road every day … who do not have a choice, who couldn’t say, ‘I’ll work from home.’”
Kolakowski recommended that the county set aside about $140,000 of the relief funds for stipends.
The stipend also would be given to three custodians “who, quite frankly, were the first in line … coming behind everybody, cleaning the buildings, you know, to make sure that they’re safe and clean for all of us,” he said.
To prepare for a future wave of the coronavirus or another health threat, Northampton is interested in retrofitting its public buildings by installing ultraviolet light equipment in the air handlers, “which will kill the virus. Actually, it also kills mold, and other bacteria, too. So it’s just … very good, mak-ing the buildings a little healthier.”
Technology improvements are also needed, which would enable county officials to meet remotely in any emergency, including a public health threat, hurricane, or snow storm.
“We’re getting laptops for everybody so that … you all can work from home. We can have essential staff work from home … and not have to come here … to the building,” Kolakowski said.
Supervisor John Coker said the CARES Act funding should be distributed to the towns based on population, because that was how the money was distributed to counties. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Kolakowski acknowledged that due to COVID-19, the towns have lost revenue from transient occupancy taxes, sales taxes, and meals taxes, and they may need immediate help.
He will “fight tooth and nail” for more funding for the county if a second round of relief funds is distributed in the future.
“At some point, we do need to look at the fact that a lot of the services that we provide are countywide and not based on population,” he pointed out.
Coker made a motion to distribute the CARES Act funding to the county and its towns based on population, and it was seconded and passed unanimously, meaning the county will receive 70% of the funds and the towns will receive 30%.
Kolakowski warned that the county’s proposed budget for expenses related to COVID-19 could reach $2 million, “and then we’re going to have to start setting some serious priorities.”