Hernando County has received funding for the third phase of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act Program from the State of Florida, Division of Emergency Management. County Administrator Jeff Rogers introduced the spending plan at the Board Of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on January 26, 2021 for the board to discuss. The commission approved the spending plan unanimously.
Rogers explained that the county has been awarded CARES funding in three phases. Phase 1: $8,459,386, Phase 2: $6,767,509, and Phase 3: $18,610,649. The total CARES allocation for Hernando is $33,837,544. County Administrator Jeff Rogers reported that there are still funds available from the first two phases totaling around $22 million, and described the spending plan as follows:
Government COVID Response and Preparation
— P25 Emergency Radio System Upgrade $13,000,000
— Increase county reserves / prepare for reduced revenue $2,450,573
— Vaccine Distribution Assistance to FDOH (Florida Department of Health) $1,000,000
The board agreed that the radio system upgrade has been a budget and safety issue for some time, and if the system can be purchased with CARES funds, this prevents a debt service issue in the future.
The county’s first responders are assisting the FDOH in the administration of vaccines, and so far have incurred $9,322 of overtime in the week prior to the January 26 meeting. 2000 vaccination appointments set by CDR Maguire at $5.00 per appointment have so far cost the county $10,000.
“My job is not to scare you,” Rogers said as he described the “worst-case scenario” for vaccine costs in the coming weeks. Taking 3000 vaccines per week into account, the total cost is estimated at $1.4 million at the end of the year.
Rogers went on to say that that the cost could be lessened as other vaccine providers such as Walgreens begin administering vaccines. Surplus funds in the vaccine distribution assistance fund will be transferred to county reserves.
The rest of the spending plan involves community and business assistance, specified during the meeting as:
— Small Business Grants including Non Profits (714 @ $3,500) $2,600,000
— United Way – Mortgage, Utility, Rent Relief $230,000
— YMCA First Responders Childcare Program (Reimbursement) $60,299
— School System Reimbursement for CARES expenses ($3,376,846.80
— Economic Incentive and Infrastructure Fund $1,500,000
— Business incubator – Let’s Grow Hernando $475,000
— Vincent House $300,000
Total Expenses $22,615,872
Total CARES Funding Available $22,615,872
Remaining Balance $0
Let’s Grow Hernando is a non-profit organization which is funding a business incubator in the community with the goals of retention of business, providing businesses with a growth environment, and helps startups to grow in the county.
Commissioner John Allocco was the first to comment on allocating funds to the mental health sector, specifically the Vincent House. “I would like to see this board invest in something that we know is going to be part of our community and giving back to the community already (Vincent House) needs to expand, they need to build.” Alloco added that if the board would approve funding for the purchase of additional land, the Vincent House would be willing to build without significant delay.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb also would like additional mental health services available, particularly serving students in the school system, and those homeless who have lost their jobs and homes due to the pandemic.
Commissioner Steve Champion expressed concern about the future of the national economy affecting the county. After commending the county’s actions during the pandemic by saying, “We haven’t stifled growth and we haven’t shut down our county,” Champion told the board that 50,000 jobs have been lost due to the Biden administration’s “signing a piece of paper,” He added that fuel has increased by 40 cents, and predicts that the increase in the minimum wage over the next five years will result in inflation increased by 40%
“There’s [sic] bad times coming … why aren’t we conserving as much as possible?” Champion said, proffering the possibility of increasing the county’s reserves to 25% or possibly 30%.
Champion agrees that the radio system for the county’s first responders is a necessary expense, but countered that small businesses may not be in the greatest need. “Everyone’s hiring. They can’t find any people. They’re booming right now.”
Commissioner Beth Narverud said of the increased reserves funding, “In my heart, I feel that the CARES funding is to support those who were seriously hurt by this pandemic and there were so many. As far as not supporting small businesses, I can’t see that. I know they’re starting to flourish but they took some hard hits, and they’re living on a string and they took loans and … they have to pay those back and they’re still gonna have that all coming forward.” Narverud also agreed about the need for mental health services in the school system.
Superintendent John Stratton with three members of the school board addressed the board regarding reimbursement for the school system. The school district requested over $3.3 million in reimbursement from the CARES Act funding, however this round of funding will give the district $1 million.