King George County officials are glad to have federal money to help cover expenses incurred as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, but does that mean the locality has to continue its declaration of emergency?
After some discussion, during which County Administrator Neiman Young acknowledged the statement’s wording is “a source of contention” among some, a majority of Board of Supervisors agreed to continue the emergency status.
The supervisors also voted to have a public hearing July 14—the only meeting next month—on the matter of adding a separate budget line for the $2.3 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act, or CARES Act. At that time, the board may also set a work session to discuss how to use the funds, which must be spent by the end of December.
No one batted an eye about accepting the federal money. With Virginia facing an expected shortfall of $400 million in state sales tax because of the global pandemic, Young said he was “grateful for anything the state and federal government can do to assist local governments.”
However, Supervisor Jeff Bueche was opposed to wording in the emergency declaration that said the situation warranted government action to “prevent or alleviate damage, loss, hardship or suffering.”
“There are those who disagree with me, but from my vantage point, we are not in the same place we were weeks ago,” said Bueche who doesn’t believe COVID-19 constitutes the same threat to public health and safety that it did in March. “There are some people that are susceptible to this [virus], and some frankly, that are not.”
Supervisor Richard Granger agreed with some of Bueche’s points, but said perhaps he was looking at the situation solely in terms of cases reported in King George. The locality has the smallest population in the Rappahannock Area Health District, but by mid-April, it had four confirmed deaths from the virus, which was more than Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. At several points until mid-May, King George had as many cases as Fredericksburg.
Then, case levels stabilized in King George. No new deaths have been reported, and since June 1, King George has had the fewest cases of the five localities in the health district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.
That doesn’t mean residents haven’t been affected, Granger said.
“The lockdown has had an impact on everyone,” he continued. “I think we still are in the state of emergency from that perspective. We do have damages, we do have loss, we do have hardship, and we do have suffering … across the board.”
While first responders have the personal protective equipment they need, they still must be prepared for an outbreak, Granger said. Or for daily calls that may put them in contact with those who are infected, said Supervisor Annie Cupka. She cited a three-day snapshot from mid-June when firefighters and rescue officials faced possible COVID-19 exposure on 13 of 31 calls.
“I think we need to keep it [the emergency declaration] in place a little longer,” she said.
Supervisor Chairwoman Cathy Binder agreed, stating that the declaration is a “really important financial tool, whether I totally 100 percent agree with it or not.” Then, she looked out into the audience; board meetings are being held at King George High School where there’s more room to practice social distancing.
“I see how many people are here with masks on,” Binder said. “It’s not a normal time”
To date, King George has spent more than $40,000 on measures related to the pandemic, Young said. Some of it was for obvious reasons, such as to provide more protective gear for first responders or to put see-through partitions in place between visitors and county employees in government offices.
Other measures are for items residents wouldn’t necessarily consider, Young said. For instance, workers at the county’s convenience centers need gloves, masks and gowns because they come in contact with a lot of people. There’s also been a lot of money spent for cleaning supplies, sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes—and they were hard to come by, and more expensive, in the earlier weeks of the pandemic, Young said.
County buildings have closed daily at 3:30 p.m. since March for intensive cleaning, and all employees have rolled up their sleeves and wiped down light switches, door knobs and other high-touch areas.
County department heads are putting together lists of items the CARES Act funding can be used for, including requests from regional agencies that would like a share. Young’s recommendation to the supervisors on July 14—the meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the high-school auditorium—will be to take care of county needs first, followed by local small businesses, then regional facilities to which King George provides funding, then outside agencies.