SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - While in Savannah Friday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said more rounds of CARES Act funding was never promised to city and county governments. Governor Kemp announced this week that up to $1.5 billion of federal aid will go into an Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
“What we decided to do was use $1.5 billion to pay back the loans that we’re making on the Unemployment Trust Fund right now. The state’s having to pay interest for it, I’m accountable to the taxpayers of the state,” said Governor Kemp.
Governor Kemp said the direction was very clear to local governments when the first phase of CARES Act funding came to the state, which was just over $4 billion.
$371 million of that went to local governments around the state, including $7.5 million to the city of Savannah.
“The City of Savannah, as opposed to many cities in the state decided again, we were going to try to take care of the needs of our citizens first," said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.
Savannah committed 80 percent of its share of first phase funding to help with housing, utility and small business assistance, and did so believing more federal CARES Act funding would come from the state.
That belief stemmed from an email Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson sent to members back in July saying they had negotiated with the state that $600 million to be distributed to local governments in three rounds.
When asked about that email from GMA to it’s members, Governor Brian Kemp said, “You’d have to ask Larry about what he was telling his members.”
Governor Kemp added, “What I know is what was very clear, and that was what we put in our letter to the locals that the first round was done, the second and third round would be optional. As you know these are reimbursement funds for COVID expenses. It’s not a lot of money for people to hand out for political favors at the local level.”
Mayor Van Johnson pointed out Thursday several key financial decisions were made by the City with the understanding more funding would be coming.
“We rolled back a millage. We made some assumptions based on the understanding that we would receive about $8.5 million for round two and round three, which would have been about a fifty percent share of the $17 million. Well obviously, that’s a hole now. And that’s a hole we’re going to have to close," the Mayor said.
Mayor Johnson said that happens by either raising revenues, reducing services or cutting personnel.
WTOC reached out to the GMA Executive Director to ask about the negotiations he had with the Governor’s Office, and about his understanding that $600 million would be available for local governments. When we hear back, we’ll update this story.