Gila County has spent a total of $3,556,089 to cover the cost of its COVID-19 response as of Aug. 21. It received $2,960,977 from the Arizona Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act Funding Allocation.

“So, we’re about $600,000 in the hole,” said Gila County Board of Supervisors Chairman Woody Cline at an Aug. 25 special meeting. The matter was part of the morning’s agenda.

The county has received additional COVID-19 relief funding through grants obtained by the health department and sheriff’s office, but anticipates the final total cost could be $9.4 million. The costs are attributed to the response expenses of the health and emergency management department; the sheriff’s patrol division; and dispatch.

The expenses include payroll reimbursement for the health services department, as well as for the sheriff’s office patrol and 911 dispatch.

Gila County’s health and emergency management activities related to COVID-19 also include:

• Case investigations/case management

• Contact tracing

• Pubic information and warning

• Federal, state, county, and local agency coordination and communication

• Logistics management — receiving and disseminating Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and emergency supplies, as well as the process of locating and purchasing PPE and supplies

• Cost and personnel tracking

• Planning support for testing activities

• Public call center management

• Environmental health support for businesses

• Policy support

• Operational coordination and information sharing with response agencies

• Facilitation of information sharing with government elected officials

• Acquisition and deployment of medical counter measures

The sheriff’s office activities related to the COVID-19 response included:

• Enforcement of executive orders

• Welfare checks for unreachable COVID-19 patients/contacts

• Facilitation and planning of drive-thru testing sites

• Data collection on positive cases to warn responders

• Dispatch screens all contacts or COVID-19 related symptoms for responder safety

• Provide security for SNS and PPE deliveries

• Facilitate PPE deliveries for EOC/HEOC

Finance department director Mary Springer outlined the county’s current fiscal position due to COVID-19:

The county was awarded COVID AZ Cares Act Grant Funding amounting to $2,960,977.

Gila County’s costs, as of Aug. 21 include:

• Wages, $2,846,671

• Lost Revenue, $218,826 (lost $99,253.24 in State Shared Revenue in April and another $52,896.48 in May; Vehicle License Tax lost in April was $6,454.59 and in May it was $59,522.22)

• GEST Voc Rehab Services, $72,317 (this is only paid when participants are on site at their jobs, which was not possible with the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders for most residents)

• COVID Administrative Leave Costs, $284,337 (some county workers were put on leave to meet social distancing requirements, but still were paid)

• Public Assistance 25% Match Required, $83,938

• Non-Reimbursable Costs, $50,000

The county’s total cost as of Aug. 21 was $3,556,089.

Cline asked when staff on administrative leave would be returning to county facilities. County manager James Menlove said it could be within the next few weeks to two months, depending on the illness trends.

Michael O’Driscoll, director of the health and emergency management department, explained the number of new cases and hospitalizations needs to be at 5% or lower of the county population to allow a return to full staffing. Gila County has not reached the target numbers yet, but the trend is going down in all counties, he said.

Cline also asked what non-reimbursable costs were. Springer said if the county purchased a laptop for someone to work remotely, but that work was not related to COVID-19, the cost could not be reimbursed with AZ CARES money.

She said the county’s management team and the financial department staff built a very conservative budget due to ongoing concerns about the financial impact of COVID-19.

“So, we’re going to come out OK?” Cline asked.

Springer said the staff believes so.

Cline continued, “A lot of the fire departments/districts are pushing hard for a part of the COVID-19 money, but a lot are in city limits and those cities were also awarded COVID-19 money, but most are holding onto it.”

He then asked Supervisors Tommie Martin and Tim Humphrey their thoughts on allocating the county’s AZ CARES money. Martin said if what the county has is all it’s going to get, then the county should take care of its needs.

“It is a difficult situation either way,” Humphrey said.

Cline agreed it was a tough decision, but he believes in keeping a tight hold on the county’s money. He said he wanted to help the county staff and use the money to meet its needs.

He said if the state and federal government are still uncertain about helping counties more, then the supervisors should start writing letters and ask the county’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C. to make their concerns known.

Menlove agreed that would be a good idea, but added, “There may be changes. It’s a fluid situation. Right now, the money is still there and we will come to you for specific allocations.”

ALLOCATIONS

AZ CARES Act fund allocations to other governmental entities in Gila County:

• City of Globe — $843,484 (population 7,347)

• Town of Hayden — $72,443 (population 631)

• Town of Miami — $204,356 (population 1,780)

• Town of Payson — $1,815,437 (population 15,813)

• Town of Star Valley — $264,974 (population (2,308)

• Town of Winkleman — $39,953 (population 348)

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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