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NASHVILLE — As they grapple with COVID-19 as well as existing infrastructure needs, Hamilton County, Chattanooga and nine other municipalities within the county can look forward to some $9.2 million as their share of a $200 million statewide grant program created by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers.

But local governments here as well as for all 95 counties and 345 towns and cities across Tennessee will have to wait 91 days to get it in their coffers.

That's because the huge pots of one-time money only become available to them on July 1 when Tennessee's Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget takes effect.

"Those funds will come directly to the local county and those cities and they have discretion in how to use it within particular guidelines around infrastructure and COVID-19," Lee said during a video conference call with reporters last week.

The idea of special, one-time funding for local governments originated much earlier this year amid the state's massive $1 billion revenue surplus. Lee originally proposed a $100 million infrastructure fund for local governments to put toward a variety of local needs ranging from sewers and roads to technology. Counties would divide $50 million while municipalities would do likewise based on formulas based on population.

But as the coronavirus' expected impact on both the economy and health needs hit home with Lee and 132 state lawmakers, they added the additional $100 million.

As a result, there is a $100 million fund for cities and towns and a second $100 million fund for county governments. Money is apportioned largely on population.

But there are other factors too and Lee has parcelled out additional funding to Tennessee's economically distressed counties as defined by unemployment and other factors. As a result three sparsely populated Southeast and Middle Tennessee counties — Bledsoe, Grundy and Van Buren — are slated for hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional state grant funding.

Hamilton County's allotted share stands at $3.32 million while Chattanooga's is $4.01 million. (See Box for local, area breakdowns).

But again, not a penny of it is available until July 1.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said that's not so much an issue with city government, noting that "we are in a strong financial position. We've been doing budget analysis, fortunately we have been having a good fiscal year up until the public health crisis. That includes collecting virtually all of our real estate tax dollars by March 1.

"We feel confident that we'll be able to manage our way to the end of the [city fiscal] year" on June 30, Berke said. "That doesn't mean it's going to be easy or that there isn't going to be some troubles."

Berke noted that when he declared the city's state of emergency a few weeks ago, he implemented an immediate hiring freeze.

"So we feel good about being able to manage through the end of [June 30]," Berke said.

But Berke said "I am concerned, of course, about next year's budget. And the state dollars, as I understand it, about half of those dollars are pretty restricted to capital and half of those dollars are a little more flexible. And we are grateful for every one of the dollars. It's safe to say we're going to be looking for ways to access additional dollars from the state and federal government."

One blow to Chattanooga and Knoxville is that the federal government's $2.2 trillion emergency rescue package passed and signed Friday doesn't allow for direct federal appropriations to mid-size cities in the U.S. But Nashville and Memphis, which have populations of more than 500,000 people, will receive direct federal dollars with the money not having to go through the state.

Nashville and Memphis could see as much as $100 million to $125 million in direct federal appropriations, according to map listed on the National League of Cities website.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican and member of the House Appropriation Committee, said he sought to get direct federal funding for mid-size cities including Chattanooga, Knoxville and Oak Ridge but without success.

Instead, those and other cities from mid-size to small are dependent on Lee as to how the state will parcel out the money for their various needs.

Lee said last week he awaiting further guidance from federal officials on that.

"We know the federal government is about to, or hopefully they are about to, give us some guidance on federal funding that will give us more opportunity and understanding what funds are needed to meet the needs.

"But," the governor said in response to a Times Free Press reporter's question, "you can be certain that every community and every county and Hamilton County for certainly will be part of the funding that's distributed for COVID-19."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, agreed.

Gov. Bill Lee and state lawmakers this year created a $200 million fund to aid cities and counties amid the coronavirus outbreak. Cities will divide $100 million of that with half going for infrastructure needs and the other half going to help them with coronavirus pandemic responses. An identical $100 million is headed to counties. Here's the breakdown on where that goes in Southeast Tennessee:

 

HAMILTON COUNTY: $3,324,961

Chattanooga: $4,014,616

Collegedale: $283,611

East Ridge: $493,967

Lakesite: $71,025

Lookout Mountain: $71,180

Red Bank: $289,635

Ridgeside: $39,534

Signal Mountain: $219,061

Soddy-Daisy: $332,713

Walden: $77,271

 

BLEDSOE COUNTY: $1,035,446 **

Pikeville: $65,839

 

BRADLEY COUNTY: $1,327,645

Charleston: $45,227

Cleveland: $1,022,507

 

GRUNDY COUNTY: $1,024,520 **

Altamont: $52,686

Beersheba Springs: $40,107

Coalmont: $48,538

Monteagle: $57,122

Palmer: $44,653

Tracy City: $60,808

 

MARION COUNTY: $721,593

Jasper: $104,106

Gruetli-Laager: $68,134

Kimball: $61,359

New Hope: $53,216

Orme: $32,494

Powells Crossroads: $59,837

South Pittsburg: $96,603

 

MCMINN COUNTY: $913,214

Athens: $335,803

Calhoun: $40,968

Etowah: $106,842

Niota: $46,022

 

POLK COUNTY: $631,040

Benton: $58,049

Copperhill: $37,018

Ducktown: $40,416

 

RHEA COUNTY: $756,249

Dayton: $193,152

Graysville: $64,405

Spring City: $71,158

 

SEQUATCHIE COUNTY: $615,360

Dunlap: $142,991

Graysville: $64,405

 

VAN BUREN COUNTY: $965,731**

Spencer: $66,236

Source: Governor's office

 

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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