County talks COVID grants

As of June 1, San Juan County has incurred $618,686.87 in COVID-19 related expenses, according to Tara Anderson. San Juan County Grants Manager and Emergency Operations Center Administrator Anderson presented a breakdown of expenses and grants received to the county council during its June 9 meeting.

Sneeze guards, sanitation expenditures, and extra staff time to modify procedures — such as the treasurer’s office restructuring to allow for a property tax payment program, are some of the costs to date.

“So those are the types of things you see we’ve already incurred under the department response expenses,” Anderson said.

Ongoing costs are expected for the rest of the year, totaling an estimated 527,681.16, Anderson explained. This number includes a possible surge in cases requiring isolation and quarantine scenarios.

“We wanted to be conservative in making sure we captured all those items first,” Anderson said.

The county is still unsure about what costs the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will reimburse — though it is believed to be about $268,000 through the end of the year, Anderson explained. That grant comes with a requirement of a 25 percent match from the county meaning it would have to find $89,000 in the current expense fund to receive the reimbursement from FEMA.

“Right now, we’re seeing a lot of the expenses being the responses attended to by staff that are normally working in other duties,” Anderson said. “Those duties have been put aside and they are working on the response now and that’s the majority of those costs.”

The grant that is most discussed in the county current is the $943,250 reimbursement from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“We have two different buckets of that currently. One of [those] is the CARES Relief Fund, that’s the one that’s the hot ticket that everyone’s talking about right now — that [$943,250]. I do not anticipate at this time receiving any additional funding through that source,” Anderson said. “I’m hopeful that at the end of the year — if someone else hasn’t spent it all — we can maybe [receive] additional dollars. … It’s all speculative at this time.”

The other segment of the CARES Act the county was part of the “Help America Vote” section of the act which is specific to the election, Anderson explained. The county is also anticipating a portion of funding through a community development block grant, she added.

“What I think we can speak to clearly is that there’s nothing clear to speak to,” Anderson said. “There remains a lot of uncertainty with these awards, unfortunately.”

In total, the county has a total of $2.139 million available in the budget for 2020 when all grants received are totaled along with the current expense fund, according to a spreadsheet Anderson shared. The grants listed on the spreadsheet include $40,085.06 from the CARES – Health America Vote Grant; $150,000 from the Washington State Department of Health Disaster Response Grant; $268,213.85 from FEMA; $312,682 from the DOH Emergency Housing Grant; and the $943,250 from CARES – Relief Fund for Local Governments.

On June 2, the county council agreed that a total of $157,000 of the CARES – Relief Fund for Local Governments would be used to stimulate the community.

Anderson said she worries about how the grants will pay the payroll of those whose regular jobs were upended by COVID and turned into different responsibilities to help the county’s pandemic response.

“There’s definitely a level of risk in moving forward with anything but I would say that we should move forward with the intentions of these funds in place,” Anderson said. “The intention of these particular funds was for our local government to have some relief and support in meeting the immediate response needs in our community.”