By Taylor Boyd
Officials in Henry County and the City of Martinsville have or will expend their federal CARES Act funds by the Dec. 30 deadline, while officials in Patrick County continue to eye potential projects.
Dale Wagoner, deputy county administrator in Henry County, said the county has committed all the $8,821,806 CARES Act money it was awarded.
The same holds true in Martinsville, according to Director of Finance Linda Conover, who said the city’s share of CARES Act funds — $2,190,576 — also was expended.
As of December 7, an estimated $800,000 of the $3,072,460 in CARES Act funds awarded to Patrick County remained uncommitted, according to Donna Shough, director of Human Resources and Finance. Work continues there to identify potential projects via a ‘CARES Committee.’
Projects were identified by the county’s leadership team, which includes all department heads. In this case, the team primarily included Wagoner, County Administrator Tim Hall, Public Safety Director Matt Tatum and Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry. Other department heads were brought in as needed, Wagoner said.
For instance, when discussing ways to help the school division, the leadership team may have included school administrators, or when the HVAC system was discussed, the head of the county’s maintenance/HVAC department was included in the team, Wagoner said.
He added the county’s auditor also was consulted if there were any concerns about whether a proposed project would meet the criteria to be included in the spending package. Additionally, expenses that exceeded the administrative threshold were presented to the Henry County Board of Supervisors for approval.
That work is now done, and “it’s all going to be spent by Dec. 30,” Wagoner said.
The county is waiting on arrivals of some computers, temperature monitors for the courthouse, some PPE, and for teleconference equipment to be installed at the courthouse, he said, and added “there is $943,000 outstanding right now, but it all should be spent” by Dec. 30.
Included in a detailed list of expenses is the purchase of “an ambulance for the public safety staff that costs around $250,000. It is supposed to be delivered on Dec. 14.”
Funds also were used to buy “PAPRs (Powered Air-Purifying Respirators) for public safety and law enforcement personnel to help protect them against COVID-19,” he said.
As of Sept. 30, $24,727.50 was spent on personnel diverted for a different use, Wagoner said, and explained “these are the janitors that we have diverted solely for COVID. They were not hazard duty positions, but we’re charging their salaries to COVID because there’s two of them. That’s all they do is to make sure the common areas are clean and sanitized on a regular basis. We charged the actual hours they were dedicated to doing this,” to the CARES Act funds.
He added that $119,540.12 was spent on economic support that was not for small businesses, housing, or food assistance, with funds given to the United Way to help parents with childcare, and to Social Services, to help residents with utility payments.
Wagoner added that as of Sept. 30, “$32,000 was given to help with utility assistance.”
He said $3,089,314.74 was used for the payroll for public safety. We paid the “county public safety staff and county sheriff’s office” with these funds, he said.
Hazard pay was also given to all sworn law enforcement personnel, “those who wear the badge” and all public safety personnel, excluding janitors and secretaries.
The “911 telecommunicators, by the CARES Act, were permitted to be included in that category, so they also got the hazard pay. However, we cost share their salaries with the City of Martinsville, so they only go the county’s share. The city didn’t participate in giving 911 employees hazard pay,” Wagoner said, adding the hazard pay was $3 per hour from Mar. 15 to Aug. 31.
The county also used $322,772.82 for public health expenses. “This includes the $10,000 we gave to each” of the county’s 13 volunteer fire and rescue departments, “the computers used by public safety, and automatic CPR devices for the paid staff,” he said.
Funds also were used to install touchless entrance ways at the administration building, courthouse, and the sheriff’s office. Additionally, “we installed touchless restrooms at various county buildings and parks,” Wagoner added.
He said the $581,730.97 spent to improve tele-work capabilities primarily was used to buy laptops and small, portable WIFI devices.
“Video conferencing materials are probably not included in this number yet because they’re still doing it,” Wagoner said of projects at the courthouse “where judges and lawyers can do video conferencing to keep from having to transport inmates into the courtroom. They can have bond hearings and stuff like that.”
The county also used its funds to “put up WI-FI at a couple of our parks so students could go and do homework. We’ve expanded (it) around our building on the outside, so you can park in our parking lot and get public W-IFI. We also bought the WI-FI cards for the school systems to give students who may not have internet at home or access to cellular networks to connect their devices,” he said.
As of Sept. 30, $299,700 was used for small business assistance. Wagoner said 114 small businesses were approved for financial grants. “The average grant was $2,500, but some could go up to $5,000,” he said.
Wagoner said the county used $78,627.58 to help facilitate distance learning, and bought kajeets, laptops, and other electronic devices to assist students and teachers.
The county spent $22,174.62 on personal protection equipment such as masks, face shields, gloves, and gowns; $4,695 on COVID-19 testing, and $17,110.92 on other expenditures.
Wagoner said excess garbage disposal made up around $15,000 of the other expenditure category. “With people staying home, we saw a significant rise in our garbage disposal. So, we charged the excess above and beyond to that category,” he said.
City of Martinsville
“While people were still talking about what they were going to do with the money, we jumped right into small business assistance. We worked hard,” Conover said.
As of Sept. 30, the city had expended $1,724,100.20 of the funding provided, including “$438,991.75 of the funds spent went to small business assistance,” she said, adding funds were given to 110 individual businesses.
“We had a team that met every week, sometimes twice a week, to just get these funds out there” for business assistance. “That was a big goal for us and telework capabilities,” she said.
Conover said $225,718.67 was spent to improve telehealth capabilities of public employees.
“Mostly, the money was for actual laptops. We had very few laptops available to employees, and what few we had was pretty much outdated. We were rationing them in the beginning in case we got sent home to work. Now, we’re where we could, if we need to close this building, have a sustainable number of employees work from home,” she said, adding the investment made city employees able to work remotely.
As of Sept. 30, the city spent $612,485.06 on payroll for public health and safety employees, she said.
“The money was really only used to pay the fire department and the emergency medical services (EMS). There’s a clause in there (CARES Act) that you can’t supplant fund that are already being contributed by federal and state means. So, for the sheriff’s department we get a lot of that payroll reimbursed every month through the Compensation Board,” Conover said.
She said Martinsville determined it could use CARES funds pay fire and EMS because “they were considered at risk.” Conover said the city did not give hazard pay to employees before Sept. 30.
“At this rate, there won’t be any coming out of it because I’ve pretty much spent the rest of it already,” she said, and added that included $200,000 for housing support.
“Back in the beginning, when people struggling to pay their rent and pay their utilities, some of that money went to GRACE (Grace Network) to help support those families struggling to pay their rents before the moratorium went” into effect, Conover said.
“Some of the money also went into Social Services to help out. Through utility billing we made a payment plan” Participating customers opting to use a payment plan could get help from Social Services, she said.
The city spent $171,201.48 on public health expenses to “make this building (Martinsville Administration Building) as accessible as we can to the public,” Conover said, adding that included adding plexiglass to separate county employees and the public, redoing the court rooms to spread out jurors, and adding automatic and touch-free items like touchless restroom facilities and touchless water fillers to reduce the number of items people need to touch while in the building.
“We did this so the public can do business with us,” she said, and added $54,000 was spent on economic support that is exclusive of small business, housing, and food assistance.
“It was for childcare. The United Way had a program going and they needed funding to support childcare,” Conover said.
As of Sept. 30, Conover said the city spent $16,996.13 on personal protection equipment, and $3,583 for unemployment benefits. She said $1,124.11 was spent for personnel and services that were diverted to substantially different jobs.
“These were the employees that got shifted from their regular duties to do decontamination like spraying down the buildings,” Conover said.
She does not believe the city has anything left from the CARES Act funds.
“We still have some outstanding purchase orders on some equipment that’s being installed, but the money’s gone. We have accounted for every nickel at this point,” she said.
The county appointed a committee to look at ways to spend the funds, according to Jane Fulk, chairman of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors. She said members of the committee are Shough, County Administrator Geri Hazelwood and Clyde DeLoach, of the Blue Ridge District.
“We have several projects we have allocated funds for that are still being done,” Shough said, citing the county’s new ambulance as an example. She said Station 8 (the county’s paid crew) will receive a new 2020 Type 1 ambulance that cost $182,620.
Shough said supervisors also approved offering $5,000 grants to the volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. “Four have already been awarded, and we will have four to discuss” at an upcoming committee meeting, she said.
As of Oct. 30, Hazelwood said that $294,212.97 was used to pay retroactive $4 an hour hazard payto certain county employees.
“We use the Treasury recommendations” included with the CARES Act to decide on awarding hazard pay, she said.
“Hazard pay ‘means additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship in each case that is related to COVID-19,’” Hazelwood said, adding the funds were not for across-the-board hazard pay.
She said the county is giving hazard pay to “sworn law enforcement officers,” employees in the Patrick County Public Animal Shelter “only when the attendant has to go out to a home,” employees in the Building Inspection department “for six hours per day” because they are in the office for the remainder, “paid EMS for ambulance time only, Transfer Station for all hours worked, and DSS (Department of Social Services) only for time spent doing home visits.”
She added COVID-19 cleaning is handled in-house, but county maintenance, custodians or housekeeping employees were not awarded hazard pay.
Shough said a $24,000 contract for updates to the county’s and EDA’s websites also was awarded.
The committee also approved touchless restroom facility upgrades, estimated to cost around $11,000. Those upgrades are not completed. However, much of a new flooring in the administration building has been completed or is currently underway.
“The floor covering is a vinyl laminate so as not to mold, mildew, chip, slip, scrap. It’s supposed to be a durable, long-lasting, easily cleaned product,” Shough said, adding it cost $98,000.
Hazelwood said $257,100 was allocated to the town for economic support. The initial amount was based on the town’s population.Discussions to give the Town of Stuart additional CARES funds were underway, but that has not been discussed “as of late.”
“There’s so many” plans “here at the end, (we’re) just trying to wrap up the deadline of the funds. There’s a lot out there, so many things that just keep coming in, requests for funds. Just things to improve us to try to prepare us for the unknown,” Hazelwood said. “We’ve just had such a short timeframe to gather all this information together and then have the funds expended. It’s been really difficult to try to pull all this together and make it all happen by the end of December.”