Wednesday, December 2, 2020

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State threatens county COVID-19 funding

It only took 48 hours after the Board of Supervisors voted last month to support the constitutional and civil rights of its citizens for the state to threaten Colusa County, and the cities of Colusa and Williams, with loss of their disaster relief funding.

In a letter to Colusa County officials from Mark S. Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, the state accused the county on May 29 of disregarding the parameters for protecting the health of the public and for “operating in a manner inconsistent with the established protocols.”

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors on June 16 claimed that Ghilarducci’s accusations were not accurate, and responded with their own letter claiming the state’s concern was misplaced.   

Newsom’s revised May budget included $1.3 billion in COVID-19 recovery funding for county governments, and $450 million for cities. According to Ghilarducci, the funding is explicitly contingent upon jurisdictions adhering to federal guidelines and the state’s stay-at-home order.

“Clearly, the actions Colusa County has taken would render it and the cities within the county ineligible for this funding, as they are in direct contradiction of the state’s stay-at-home order,” Ghilarducci said.

In her reply, Board Chairwoman Denise Carter said the county appreciates the state’s concerns, but that the state was inaccurate in their assessment of the county’s actions.

“Your comment, which implies we have not acted in good faith could not be farther from the truth,” Carter said.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Colusa County has taken a proactive approach to prepare for and carefully monitor potential positive cases of COVID-19 in the community, officials said.

Colusa County has had only seven cases of COVID-19, with no deaths, and most COVID patients with symptoms have recovered at home without hospitalization.

As part of the county’s COVID-19 implementation plan, the county, throughout the crisis, maintained close contact with the California Department of Public Health and worked to ensure health care systems, first responders, and public agencies had the guidance they needed. The county also provided symptom monitoring for residents who returned from traveling outside the area, distributed information, provided input and advice to citizens, and ensured health care providers had access to public health staff for consultation to quickly identify systematic patients, among many other actions to lower the chance that COVID-19 would spread among the community, officials said.

According to Ghilarducci, the funding was designed to assist jurisdictions facing extraordinary circumstances beyond the jurisdictions’ capability.

“If Colusa County believes there is no emergency, such that it can ignore the Governor’s executive orders or the State Public Health Officer’s directives, the county would not be able to demonstrate that it was extraordinarily and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Ghilarducci stated. “This could jeopardize its disaster funding.”

According to county officials, Colusa County has about $394,000 in COVID-19-related costs, although much of the disaster relief funding will reimburse existing budgeted salaries for staff time spent on COVID matters, including two months salary for the county administrative officer and clerks ($90,255); Public Health staff ($142,000); Behavioral Health staff and equipment ($28,785); and Sheriff staff ($4,537).

Additionally, the county has direct costs, including $13,442 for services and supplies, such as masks, gloves, and Plexiglas shields; $2,500 for laptop and webcam for the Probation Department; $500 for Sheriff’s supplies; and other allocated costs.

The county has incurred $14,400 or a 50 percent increase in the cost of inmate meals; the loss of commissary revenue in the amount of $1,200; and a $1,472 loss of phone call revenue, as a result of discontinuing in-person visitation in the jail.

The cost of the senior nutrition program also increased 60 percent, up from $8,382 for March and April 2019, to $13,419 for the same time period in 2020.

According to Elizabeth Kelly, director of Health and Human Services, the department cannot sustain the increased cost of the senior nutrition program, now at $20,128 since the crisis began, and the county will soon have to return to the program’s income eligibility guidelines for homebound seniors to receive delivered meals.

Additionally, Carter said prior to the board’s actions on May 27, county staff spent considerable time and effort on a plan to phase in the reopening of businesses, which received no response from the state.

“If anyone has acted in bad faith, we believe that it has been the governor and the state agencies in ignoring the requests of rural jurisdictions with less dense populations and lower infection rates to be allowed to move more expeditiously through the re-opening process,” noted Carter, in the letter. “It is our belief that Colusa County is in compliance with the current Phase 3 re-opening status, and has done nothing to jeopardize the health of our residents. Accordingly, it is our expectation that we will receive funding through CalOES or other sources to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic response.” ■

Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker is the Editor and Reporter for the Pioneer Review. She started her position with the Pioneer Review in January 2017 as the Advertising Manager. Susan specializes in local crime, government reporting. She also loves covering the various topics and events in our county. You can send her a message at susan@colusacountynews.net

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