The Woodlands officials criticize county officials over CARES Act funds management; commissioner fires back

The Woodlands Township board of directors met Feb. 24 to discuss items including winter storm recovery and a financial report. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
The Woodlands Township board of directors met Feb. 24 to discuss items including winter storm recovery and a financial report. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)

The Woodlands Township board of directors met Feb. 24 to discuss items including winter storm recovery and a financial report. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)

The Woodlands Township board of directors criticized Montgomery County's methods of allocating federal coronavirus aid at the board's Feb. 24 meeting, calling the $244,000 the township received a "slap in the face" compared to the $6.1 million it requested.

Montgomery County was allocated $105 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds in 2020. Harris County received $426 million, and it distributed funds on a $55 per capita basis to cities and other entities. Montgomery County did not use a per capita basis, and it also imposed limits on how it reimbursed expenses, excluding payroll and some other expenses.

The board of directors, which has discussed the issue previously, revisited the topic with a slide presentation from Monique Sharp, assistant general manager for finance and administration.

Township officials said they received $715,000 in CARES Act funds from Harris County based on $55 per capita for 13,000 residents. The township requested $6.1 million in funds from Montgomery County for 110,000 residents, of which $317,000 were non-payroll expenses. The township received about $244,000 of that amount, Sharp said.

Sharp said cities of comparable size to The Woodlands, which is not an incorporated city, received as much as six times as much in CARES Act funding from their respective counties.

"It's really a slap in the face to the township," Director John Anthony Brown said.

One point the directors discussed in depth was how the county had reimbursed itself for law enforcement expenses. The county allocated $50 million of CARES funds to reimburse county public safety expenses, Sharp said. Directors questioned whether that reimbursement was for public safety expenses already funded by the township. The Woodlands Township contracts with Montgomery and Harris counties for law enforcement contracts.

"If they got reimbursed for the same expense, that’s double indemnification; that’s not right,” board of directors Chair Gordy Bunch said.

Bunch said the township was working with local legislators to ensure that there is language in future aid packages that will “bypass an arbitrary redistributor,” stating that federal funds intended for cities and entities like the township had not been allocated as intended.

County officials in late 2020 said they stood by the decision not to distribute funds on a per capita basis. It had instead designated funds for countywide public safety expenses and a $300 per-student allotment to public school districts located entirely within the county, including Conroe ISD, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.

Andrew DuBois, project manager for Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said in an email Feb. 25 that Noack had confirmed via County Auditor Rakesh Pandey that public safety dollars for law enforcement contracts, such as The Woodlands law enforcement contract, were excluded from the county's calculation for COVID-19-related reimbursements from CARES Act funds.

"It’s unfortunate that once again uninformed but well-meaning community leaders make disparaging comments and false statements," DuBois said. "Commissioner Noack looks forward to the county receiving an apology by the chairman and other board members who acted in this reckless manner. If township board members think the county broke the law, Commissioner Noack suggests they march down to the District Attorney’s Office and file a complaint."

DuBois also said county officials are aware that "double dipping" from CARES Act funds is illegal, and he addressed a remark Bunch had made about whether the county had allocated funds for programs such as rent and mortgage assistance.

"In addition, contrary to Chairman Bunch’s claims, the county did have a $10 million rental assistance program using CARES Act funds that benefited approximately 1,500 households, including 623 served by Interfaith of The Woodlands," he said.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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