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Council discusses virus-related expenses

HC deaths due to COVID-19 at 22
Council discusses virus-related expenses Council discusses virus-related expenses

With potential state and federal funds available to reimburse Harrison County for COVID-19 expenses, the Harrison County Council wants to make sure all virus-related expenses are known.

All seven councilmembers met in person for the first time in two months on Tuesday, May 26 (moved from the fourth Monday because of Memorial Day). The council had been conducting its regularly scheduled meetings via conference calls.

At that last in-person meeting, the council unanimously approved $1 million in emergency spending to help county departments stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Carrie Herthel, administrator of the Harrison County Health Dept., said her department has $65,712 in virus-related expenses, with another $12,522.67 pending.

“A majority of that was out of supplies and equipment, primarily (personal protective equipment), and additional resources for the office,” said Herthel, who had taken her face mask off when she approached the podium to speak last Tuesday night.

About half of the chairs in the Commissioners/Council Room at the Harrison County Government Center were tipped over to help promote safe social-distancing guidelines. Some other audience members were also wearing face masks. The Harrison County Board of Commissioners had asked residents to cover their mouths and noses when entering a government building. (County government facilities re-opened to the public on May 26.)

The council wants to see what all county departments have spent regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past week, Harrison County has had one additional death reported due to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 22, with one clinical death (when a physician diagnoses a patient as having COVID-19 but no test was documented). The number of residents tested for the virus rose from 1,111 to 1,297 with 196 confirmed positive cases (up from 187 the previous week).

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has more than $1.3 million the county can apply for as a reimbursement. These expenses can be for expenses since the outbreak began earlier this year and through Dec. 30, 2020, according to the Indiana Finance Authority.

County department leaders are to work with Greg Reas, the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency director, to make sure all expenses are counted.

“Any department in the county that feels like they had activities related to COVID need to get with Greg to work FEMA for any reimbursement that’s available,” said council president Donnie Hussung.

Herthel’s request for herself and other salaried employees to receive extra compensation for their additional hours worked during the outbreak continues to be tabled as more information is provided.

Hussung said the county’s human resources consultant has been asked about this issue and should respond in the coming days.

Herthel said she and three other full-time, salaried employees have worked 754 more hours than their full-time schedule requires, which would total  $25,212 for the county if each employee was paid 1-1/2 times more than the employees’ regular hourly rate.

While this expense would likely qualify for reimbursement, some council members are concerned about setting precedence when other salaried employees who are not eligible for overtime pay work more hours than they are required.

Hourly employees with the health department have been paid $6,132.58 in overtime for their 262.25 extra hours worked, collectively, since the outbreak began.

Also, Herthel said her department earned a $43,202 immunization grant that will expand electronic medical records. It is the first time the department applied for the grant, and funds should arrive in July, she said.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the following expenditures:

• $30,000 to the Harrison County Coroner office for autopsy tests. Coroner Gary Gilley said the county saw the number of deaths rise above the estimated annual projection near the end of January and is not directly tied to the COVID-19 outbreak. Gilley said there have been a number of suicides and overdoses that could stem from people staying at home. He added his department does not perform autopsies of people who die at a hospital.

• $148,174 to the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. to purchase new vehicles, which is done almost annually. The department did not purchase vehicles last year. The department is purchasing one van and three trucks.

• $36,000 to the Harrison County Parks Dept. to make renovations to bathrooms and the stage area at South Harrison Park near Elizabeth. The department had requested approximately $160,000 more, which would have gone to overhaul the toll house at the park, too. That part of the project is now on hold. South Central Junior-Senior High School plans to have its in-person graduation ceremony at the park on July 10 and will use the stage.

The council’s next regular meeting will be Monday at 7 p.m. at the government center.