With the final round of funds disbursed to local entities from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act, the county is moving ahead with renovations planned for the commissioner’s office and a space for vaccine clinics at the Oakwood Office Complex.
Henry County Commissioner Glenn Miller explained CARES funds were distributed in three rounds, and the county received $451,165.12 in the first round, $225,582.56 in the second round and $973,181 in the third round.
“I’m thrilled with the money we’ve gotten,” Miller said. “I always have mixed feelings getting money like that, but I think it’s our job as the commissioners to take advantage of every grant opportunity that we get. Whether philosophically we always agree, it’s still our taxpayer money being returned to the county and as much of it as we can is being used hiring local vendors, but there are a number of things that we’ve had to go outside for because it’s just not available.”
Miller said the funds must be used for COVID-19-related expenses, which can include social distancing and facilitating a remote working environment. He added the county officials have been working to ensure the purchases don’t lead to too many significant recurring costs moving forward.
“(Those recurring costs) would come out of the general fund, and we don’t want to increase our overhead if we don’t have to,” he said, adding 48 laptops were purchased for departments, including the health department, auditor, treasurer, transportation network and emergency operations center, to facilitate remote work. “We have let the departments know that the commissioners will provide the money once through the grant. In five years, when it’s time to replace them, we will not allow that in the budget unless a particular department has their own computer fund.”
In the commissioners’ meeting room, a new desk will be purchased so the three commissioners and clerk are spread out and there will also be a separate table for those coming in for appointments. The clerk’s counter and office area is currently located within the commissioners’ meeting room, and that will be removed to open up the room and allow for more distanced seating for attendees from the public. A currently empty office in the building will become the new clerk’s office.
Two additional screens will be purchased for the room — bringing the total up to three — for remote meetings.
“We still have a fair number of Zoom meetings,” Miller said. “It’s not as good as often being there and being able to talk to people, but it works in a pinch. I think we’re going to see this more and more.”
Another piece of work planned in the commissioners’ office will include adding touch-less doors and electronic locks, which Miller said will also increase security in the building. The doors to the office will remain unlocked during the commissioners’ sessions, but at other times the second set of doors will be locked, monitored by a camera and visitors will have to press a button to be admitted into the office, similar to setups common in schools.
“We don’t want to stop people from coming out to see us,” Miller said. “This area is wonderful, but you can walk in and be in the back of the building before anyone knows you’re here.
“With the change in how society is, we want to protect our citizens but we also want to protect our employees and adapt to the changing environment,” he continued.
Excluding the desk purchase, which is $13,400, the estimated cost of the renovations for the commissioners’ office is $25,000.
Also, a bid of $187,760 was recently awarded for renovations to the former pizza restaurant at the Oakwood Office Complex so it can be utilized for a vaccine clinic.
Henry County Emergency Management Agency Director Tracy Busch explained they developed a process that each proposal for the funds goes through, ensuring that it meets federal standards and the requirements of the CARES Act and all of that information is stored together in a packet so it’s readily available.
“This process takes a little longer, but we’re very confident, in two years, when it comes to audit, we will be able to give them these,” Miller said, adding they want to ensure all of the funds are expended appropriately because, if purchases are questionable in an audit, it could have to be repaid from the general fund.
In earlier rounds of funding, the administration office space for the commissioners was modified, including a Plexiglass window, and small business grants totaling $172,000 were distributed to local businesses to help with their response to COVID-19.
Miller said they are planning on doing another round of business grants, and those details are still being finalized.
The county also utilized funds for purchases of items such as Thermascan thermometers, which are touchless and infrared; supplies for the Emergency Operations Center; storage items such as racks; computers and information technology infrastructure upgrades; redesigning the county website so it’s easier to update and provide emergency information for the public; and items for meal preparation for the Henry County Senior Center as it has seen increases in demand for Meals on Wheels and is also offering carryout meals.
“I don’t think that is changing, I think the number of meals we prepare will continue to go up,” Miller said. “We need to make sure our senior population is fed.”
The county has also utilized approximately $100,000 of its CARES funds to purchase items for the Henry County Health Department, including a truck and trailer which can be utilized for mobile vaccine clinics, a vaccine refrigerator and freezer, infrastructure upgrades and the laptops.
Miller, Busch and EMA Deputy Director Nick Nye noted they have been in contact with other counties and the state office on budget management to share ideas and receive feedback on spending the funds. Miller added Hamilton County’s business grant program was the inspiration for the county’s similar program and Henry County has likewise shared the idea with other counties.
Overall, the three county officials said the communication and cooperation from entities and agencies throughout the county has made the process work.
“It’s so important with something of this magnitude to be on the same page,” Nye said.
“Everyone has worked together,” Miller added. “It goes back to what I like about Henry County — we may be small, but together we’re a strong entity and lead the way in a lot of things.”