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County prepares final CARES Act grant requests

 

November 26, 2020



The countdown has begun for the county to make as much use as possible of its available CARES Act funding before the end-of-year buzzer sounds, signifying that the federal relief cash allocated to Wyoming can no longer be spent.

Several grants have already been approved by the State Lands and Investments Board (SLIB), but there’s one more opportunity to submit requests coming up.

SLIB will be meeting for the final time this year on December 3, and the county has already prepared its last set of grant requests accordingly. Little time remains to spend that money, if approved.

“We have to spend it and have things in place before December 31, plus we have to have the reimbursements submitted to the state by December 15,” says County Clerk Linda Fritz. “We’re cramming at the last minute to get all these things done in time.”

The state opted to allocate specific maximum amounts of CARES Act funding to each city and county. Despite a number of successful grant applications, Crook County still has plenty left in the $2.92 million earmarked for us, says Fritz.

“We didn’t get to use near that much, but we’ve made every effort,” says Fritz. “It was based on a mathematical formula of number of COVID-19 cases, population and so on. We submitted enough grants to eat it all up the first time, but we were denied some big ones.”

Six individual grants have already been approved by SLIB and accepted by the county commissioners. The first was for $13,370 to cover general pandemic-related expenditures, such as the sneeze guards at the windows of each county office.

Two grants were on behalf of Crook County Senior Services. The first is $30,000 for transportation.

“It’s getting them a new four-wheel drive vehicle that’s ADA compliant, which is wonderful,” says Fritz.

The second is $15,759 for technology needs, which Fritz says will go towards equipment such as a large television and projector to improve the ability for social distancing during meetings and gatherings, and for mobile hotspots to enable seniors without internet service to attend telehealth appointments.

Within the courthouse itself, a grant of $37,715 was awarded for phone upgrades.

“These phone systems we have had for about 12 to 15 years and a lot of them are dying, we can’t transfer the phones out to our cellphones if someone is teleworking. That takes a special program that we end up having to pay for every time,” explains Fritz.

A telework technology grant for $70,611 will go towards laptops, says Fritz, which, like the phone upgrades, will increase staff members’ ability to work from home. This is necessary for continuity of government, she explains, as it could be disastrous for an entire office to get sick at the same time.

To prevent this, offices have been sending some staff members to work from home if possible, often alternating such that employees spend some time at the office and some teleworking. If employees in the office are quarantined, those at home have not been exposed and can return to the office.

The laptops will enable staff to remote directly into their office computers so as to continue working exactly as they would normally.

Finally, $10,341 was awarded for an air handler purification system.

“We tried for what we call an HVAC purification system, which was around $200,000, because we have no recirculating air in this courthouse,” says Fritz. “They were denying all HVACs unless it was for a hospital.”

State Treasurer Curt Meier did argue that the request was different because it would enable circulating air, rather than upgrade an existing system, but the grant was still denied, Fritz says. Instead, the county was approved for UV lights that are inserted into ducts and heaters to purify air before it exits the vents.

Aside from the HVAC system, a number of the county’s other requests were denied. This included a new building for Crook County Senior Services in Hulett that would have been ADA compliant; due to there being very little time remaining, this could not have been completed before the deadline.

Senior Services also requested portable shelters to be used for outside gatherings. Fritz suspects this was turned down due to the time of year.

Sheriff Jeff Hodge also intended to request grant funding to upgrade the E911 and dispatch computer systems. However, these were pulled due to the lack of time remaining and Fritz suspects they would have been denied anyway, because similar requests in other counties were turned down.

On December 3, says Fritz, the county will submit a new set of requests that have not previously been seen by SLIB. This will include an upgrade to the phone system within Crook County Public Health, as well as teleconferencing technology to improve the ability of the county commissioners to broadcast their meetings digitally.

The county will also be requesting additional sanitizing equipment that can be used in other county-owned buildings, such as the libraries in Hulett and Moorcroft.

It will also include salary for Sheriff’s Office staff who worked at the county’s Emergency Operations Center, and hazard pay for detention officers who risk exposure to the virus while working at the jail and deputies who risk exposure during their shifts.

“We’re not going after all the payroll,” says Fritz. Other counties have made requests to cover their entire payroll, she says, but Crook County does not feel this would fit with the requirements of the grant program.

CARES Act funding cannot be used to pay for things that were accounted for in this year’s budget, she says. It would be hard to justify during an audit that the payroll hadn’t already been accounted for.

“I would assume that these should get approved,” Fritz says. “This is our last shot.”

To ensure reimbursement can be sought in time for the deadline, Fritz says, the commission has already passed a motion to approve Chairman Kelly Dennis’ signature and will ratify all necessary documents at their January meeting.

 
 

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