WARREN — After hiring a law firm to advise on American Rescue Plan Act expenses, Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday asked the county’s Common Pleas court to exempt those expenses from a statutory limit on how much Commissioners can spend on outside legal counsel in a year.
Commissioners voted in late February to hire Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley and Matthews to provide legal advice regarding the spending of the county’s $38 million in federal ARP funds.
The firm will charge commissioners $170 per hour for partner work, $155 per hour for partner work and $90 for paralegals. The firm’s salary will come from ARP funds, according to commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, who said legal services are a permitted use of the money.
Under Ohio’s revised code, commissioners have a threshold on what they can spend on outside counsel in a calendar year — they can’t spend more than the county attorney’s annual salary, according to the assistant county attorney, Bill Danso.
Trumbull County District Attorney Dennis Watkins earns $148,151 a year, according to county auditor’s office records.
By filing an application with the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, money spent on counsel for Baker Dublikar for ARP purposes will not count against the commissioners’ outside counsel spending cap. Danso said the action is “very routine”.
Cantalamessa said it was “more of a precautionary move than anything else.”
“When you combine all of the legal cases that we have taken in the last 15 months, unfortunately, and only the normal day-to-day workers compensation cases or specific legal advice – when you add the ARP aspect to it… the last thing what we want to do is to exceed this (limit)”, said Cantalamessa.
Baker Dublikar has worked with other communities in the area, including Trumbull and Howland County Council of Governments. In February, when commissioners interviewed the North Township law firm in anticipation of hiring it for ARP purposes, members said five associates would be available to work for the county and other communities it represents. .
At that time, Commissioner Frank Fuda said the commissioners wanted to hire a company to make sure everything was done legally and wouldn’t cause trouble if the county was audited.
Commissioner Niki Frenchko said she began asking the county last spring to hire a law firm to advise it on the use of ARP money.
The commissioners discussed many possible uses of county ARP funds, including county sanitary water and sewer projects, but formally committed little money. In March, commissioners allocated $2 million to maintain the CARES 4 Trumbull Small Business Relief Fund, a grant program for local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and $1 million to create a loan fund. renewable for county businesses.
Local governments have until 2024 to commit ARP funds and until 2026 to spend them, according to the National Association of Counties.
Wednesday’s meeting agenda included a request to discuss HRA expenses, which Frenchko had mentioned in a previous meeting. The meeting, however, was adjourned abruptly by Cantalamessa and Fuda after it turned into an argument, and there was no such discussion or public comment.