HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - With a resolution unanimously approved at the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ Oct. 6 meeting, Hunterdon County has established a new COVID-19 expense relief grant program for the 26 municipalities in the county to apply for and receive funding in increments of no less than $1,000 and no more than $5,000 per municipality.

The grants are designed to help defray a portion of the costs municipalities took on in response to the pandemic, with stocking of supplies, operational planning and staffing considerations continuing to evolve.

The amount of funding for each municipal grant will be determined on the basis of .40 per capita population (per person) for each municipality. The resolution also established the basis of why Hunterdon County is allocating funding for the grants.

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“The ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency has shouldered municipal governments in Hunterdon County with unanticipated costs ranging from the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE), employee overtime costs, retrofitting of public spaces and acquisition of cleaning materials,” the resolution said. “The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders desires to provide funding to assist Hunterdon County municipalities in support of expenditures made in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Municipalities have a deadline of Nov. 30 to submit their applications to Hunterdon County for COVID-19 grants.

“The local municipalities have been dealing with COVID-19 and the public health and operational aspects of this pandemic,” county business administrator Kevin Davis said. “There’s a lot of costs the individual towns did not believe they would incur as 2020 began, in formulation of their budgets. We have structured a municipal grant program that utilizes half of the funding that the freeholder board had officially allocated toward dealing with the pandemic, that is the $100,000 approved by the board at its special meeting held March 31.”

The COVID-19 municipal grant program will half that, and allocate a total of $50,000 to Hunterdon municipalities who successfully apply.

In March Freeholder Board Director Shaun C. Van Doren explained that the county needed to create the $100,000 COVID-19 response budget line “to assist in the purchase of needed protective equipment,” as he reported the county’s Health Department and Office of Emergency Management (OEM) had distributed more than 110,000 protective items to Hunterdon County first responders, Hunterdon Healthcare, nursing homes, care centers and medical providers within the first few weeks of the pandemic’s spread.

Davis said county staff tried to come up with a formula for grant funds distribution “that is fair and that worked, and timely with Census count ongoing.” The result was a 40 cents per-person distribution of funds, ensuring that every municipality will receive at least $1,000.

“In order to keep the $50,000 range of spending, we set the maximum at $5,000 per municipality,” he said.

Davis added that each municipality applying will have to forward a resolution to the governing body for authorizing the grant submission.

Van Doren said during a conference call he held with the mayors and municipal OEM coordinators across Hunterdon on COVID-19 and public health and safety that the new grant program was detailed. His initial goal was for the state to allocate funding programs to the municipalities managing the cost burdens seen since March, and the spike in cases in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region.

“During the most intense period of this public health emergency, I hosted a regular conference call for mayors to provide updates and advise on ways of support for our county and our local governments to be working together, communicating regularly and sharing information and resources,” he said. “As we head into a new period of escalating COVID-19 positive cases across the region, I found it important to again renew the conference call program. As I have stated previously, our mayors, local governing body members and their workforces have been on the frontlines of responding to the COVID-19 emergency. After the State of New Jersey authorized funds to Hunterdon County from the federal CARES Act money, I wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy requesting that he also authorize funds for our municipalities that have also been hit with extra, unplanned pandemic response costs. There continues to be no response or actions from the governor on this request.”

Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Soloway said the county’s municipal governments had to undertake elements (and costs) to protect the public and their employees from COVID-19, and that “face coverings, PPE, protective shields, extra cleaning of facilities and vehicles are all costly actions needed to protect against the spread of this virus,” she said.

Among “COVID-19 costs” that municipalities incurred over the last seven months and continuing this fall and likely beyond that, as defined in the resolution, are acquisition of PPE; purchase of protective infrastructure and equipment (including new acquisitions and reimbursement of expenses already incurred); cleaning supplies and services, sanitizer, emergency management expenses; and the reimbursement of COVID-19 related overtime costs (for municipal personnel) including health emergency overtime costs already incurred.

“None of these costs were envisioned with budget proposals put together by municipal finance departments at the beginning of the year,” Soloway said. “Where the county can be helpful by providing some financial support, we should do it. I know from my experience in Franklin’s local government that any financial support is always most welcome, and I support helping our municipalities through this grant program.”