New Castle County Council allows CARES Act funds to be spent faster, with less oversight
New Castle County council voted this week to distribute more than $6 million to municipalities and fire companies to fight the coronavirus. It also changed requirements around spending other federal pandemic relief money.
Council voted to allow the County executive branch to buy supplies and contractual services related to COVID-19 without following the usual rules surrounding contracts — like public notice on requests for proposals. Council also gave up their power of approval over individual COVID-19-related contracts. In both cases Council must still be notified ahead of the purchases.
Council declined to pass a similar measure last month, introduced as an emergency ordinance, that would not have required notification to Council ahead of purchases. At the time, Council members expressed concern over transparency and accountability.
But County Council President Karen Hartley Nagle called the ordinances passed Tuesday a “fair compromise."
Councilman Jea Street was the only one to oppose them. He said he worries with a less public process, fewer contracts will be given to minority-owned businesses.
“All it is is a lockout ordinance,” he said during Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting. “This one locks people out, the next one locks people out, and I can’t in good conscience support it.”
Street scoffed at the fact that the exceptions only apply to COVID-19-related spending. The County received more than $322 million in CARES Act funding— more than the annual operating budget Council passed late last month.
Council Finance Committee co-chair John Cartier said the goal is getting CARES Act funds out the door efficiently.
“We were granted these funds by the federal government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in our locality, and this will enable us to do it because it will give us a streamlined process which will get the money quicker to the communities and recipients that need these funds,” Cartier said during Tuesday’s Council meeting.
County Chief of Technology & Administrative Services Michael Hojnicki said during the Finance Committee meeting that the typical request for proposals process can take “90 days or better.” The CARES Act funds must be spent by the end of the calendar year.
County CFO Michael Smith noted Thursday that if Council is unhappy with the way funds are being spent, it can repeal the ordinances.