TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Several small towns in Travis County are upset they haven’t directly seen federal financial relief from the CARES Act.
Travis County received more than $60 million to assist with COVID-19, but has held off from directly distributing it to the more than 20 municipalities within the jurisdiction. County officials are concerned that if this money isn’t spent based on federal guidelines, then they will be legally on the hook to pay it back.
“I could have a community in a real crisis if a lot of my small businesses don’t make it in the next couple of months,” said Kara King, the mayor of Bee Cave.
“Who better to understand how to fill those needs than the communities and the community leaders themselves,” echoed Michael Dyson, mayor of Rollingwood.
King, Dyson and two other Travis County mayors joined in a group video chat with the KXAN team on Monday. They shared their belief that the county has put up too much red tape to allow access to the federal funding they need.
“Things like teleworking and sanitization of our facilities and so forth, that are new expenses that we didn’t budget for and really need to find some relief for,” said Sandy Cox, the mayor of Lakeway.
County officials admit they haven’t received much guidance from the federal treasury about how to allocate the funds. A spokesperson for the county said new information is coming in daily.
“At the end of the day, we are dealing with taxpayer dollars. And we must make certain that we do everything we can to make sure those taxpayer dollars are spent in a fair, legal and equitable manner throughout our county,” said Hector Nieto, Travis County Public Information Officer. “We want to make certain that the county at no time is made liable for any mistakes that could happen.”
On Tuesday, Travis County commissioners will hear recommendations to create a “small cities assistance program” – where CARES funds are dispersed based on a population formula. This would also establish a reimbursement program to ensure that expenses cities incur are in line with COVID-19 federal guidelines. That’s a strategy other urban counties — like Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties — have implemented.
Travis County financial administrators have also earmarked $20 million to help people pay their rent or mortgage and also apply for small business grants.
But the mayors are concerned a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when everyone’s needs are different.
“What we are asking is that it actually comes down here so we can do things that we understand within our own local disaster plans in supplement to county plans and state plans that they won’t understand because they are not down in the grassroots with us,” said Dr. Larry Wallace Jr., the mayor of Manor.