Brockton Mayor Sides With State In Battle With Plymouth County Over Coronavirus Relief Funds

The mayor of the one of the Massachusetts cities hardest hit by coronavirus sided with Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday in a dispute between the administration and Plymouth County commissioners over who should administer $90 million in relief funds awarded by the federal government to the county.

Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan wrote a letter to the three county commissioners on Thursday urging them to transfer the money to the state so that the Baker administration could oversee its distribution to cities and towns.

The letter was also signed by Plymouth Town Manager Melissa Arrighi.

"No other county in the state is attempting to administer this money and has determined that the Commonwealth is better situated to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Although counties were technically allowed to apply for this money, we feel this should be reserved for other parts of the country where county governments are robust operations that routinely administer local affairs," Sullivan and Arrighi wrote.

The mayor and town manager were the latest local officials to urge the three Plymouth County commissioners to stand down and give the money to the state to dispense.

The neighboring board of commissioners in Norfolk County wrote a similar letter Thursday, telling their Plymouth County counterparts that it believes the state's ability to "leverage, manage, account for and distribute" such a large sum of money "far exceeds our own."

For the most part, county government in Massachusetts has been abolished, but vestiges of it still remain. The CARES Act made a pool of money available to government bodies to help with expenses associated with the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Plymouth County applied for and received federal relief money, which was restricted to government entities representing 500,000 people or more. The only other entities in Massachusetts to receive funding were the state and the city of Boston, which is also administering its own funding.

Norfolk County commissioners Francis O'Brien of Dedham, Peter Collins of Milton and Joseph Shea of Quincy said they filed an initial application for relief funding, but withdrew that application after being contacted by the Baker administration and told the state was trying to leverage "this anticipated funding across multiple federal funding streams to maximize resources for the citizens of the Commonwealth."

"Time is of the essence and we ask you to consider the welfare of all the communities in the commonwealth, not just Plymouth County," O'Brien, Collins and Shea wrote to the Plymouth County board on Thursday.

Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan sent a letter to Plymouth County on Tuesday urging them to relinquish the funds to the state. Heffernan said that as a result of the county's application, the allotment of relief funding to Massachusetts state government was reduced by $90 million.

If Plymouth County keeps the money, Heffernan said, the county will assume all legal responsibility for oversight and compliance of how that money gets spent by cities and towns, and the state will not send any if its money to towns within the county and it will bill the county for the cost of its relief efforts within its boundaries.

Or, Heffernan said, the county can wire the money to the state, and Massachusetts will assume all responsibility for how it gets spent.

The Plymouth County Board of Commissioners has a meeting scheduled for Thursday night at 6 p.m. via Zoom, but Chairman Daniel Pallotta said this week the board had no intention of backing down.

"I have absolutely 100% certainty that we will launch this program quicker than the Commonwealth; we will be far more effective and cost-efficient with the money," Pallotta said during an earlier meeting, according to the Globe.

The county said it had hired the law firm Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane and the auditing firm Melanson Heath to help with oversight and compliance.

Heffernan gave the county board until Friday to notify the Baker administration of its final decision.



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