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County Board looks at who to give CARES money to

By Staff | Aug 9, 2020

The process of deciding how to utilize the $1.65 million Faribault County received via the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act continued at a Faribault County Commissioners works session held Thursday morning, Aug. 6.

County auditor Darren Esser told the board no official action could be taken since it was just a work session.

He also reminded the commissioners the purpose of the meeting was to learn what needs are present in the county in order to promote the best use of the funds.

“Keep in mind there are many stipulations tied to using the funds,” Esser said. “Right now there is no penalty for improper use but if an audit reveals problems the county could have to repay a portion or all of the misused funds.”

Both of the public schools in the county, Blue Earth Area and United South Central, were represented at the work session.

BEA superintendent Mandy Fletcher shared with the board the number of increased expenses the district has incurred because of COVID-19.

“We had to make sure all of the students have access to education and we had to meet their meal needs,” Fletcher commented. “We were fortunate to have the flexibility and freedom to distribute learning due to having Chromebooks for each student.”

Fletcher then brought up one of the needs of the district.

“A number of our Chromebooks were first generation computers and were six years old,” she explained. “We could not update programs on these old computers.”

Fletcher discussed other challenges.

“It is difficult to deliver education through Zoom,” Fletcher commented. “We need to have the capability to have teachers who are teaching in the classroom to also be online for those students who are leaning at home. It takes additional technology to do that.”

Personal protection equipment (PPE), floor markings, new signs relating to the coronavirus, replacing and/or removing water fountains and equipment to clean restrooms are some of the other expenses the district has had to deal with because of the pandemic, according to Fletcher.

“We will spend about $207,000 on new Chromebooks, I-Pads and swivel cameras which follow the teacher around the room,” Fletcher noted. “Our increased operating expense from cleaning supplies is $30,000, so the total is $237,000.”

Commissioner Tom Warmka asked about transportation expenses.

“If we use a hybrid model of education we will definitely have an increase in expenses because at best the buses will only be 50 percent full,” Fletcher said. “We are still refining our numbers but we know there will be increased mileage, fuel and driver time costs.”

Fletcher mentioned the district is also eligible for some relief from Geer and Esser Funds.

The district has to apply and be approved for those funds. The district spends the money and then is reimbursed, according to Fletcher.

“So far we have used $17,000 to purchase Chromebooks for our second graders,” Fletcher remarked.

Fletcher also reminded the commissioners to keep Genesis Classical Academy in mind through this process.

“Seven percent of the money earmarked for BEA through the Geer and Esser funds goes to any non-public school in our district, so Genesis is eligible for some money through those funds,” Fletcher added.

USC superintendent Keith Fleming said USC shared many of the same areas of concern which BEA was dealing with.

“The technology, staffing, PPE, transportation and food service are all areas where we are seeing increased expenses,” Fleming said. “These items would put our request at $194,000.”

Groskreutz asked about the busing situation at USC.

“We do not need to purchase any more buses but we will not have any extras,” Fleming responded. “If we have to go to distance learning we may need to purchase a van to help deliver meals.”

Rick Ash, the CEO (chief executive officer) of United Hospital District also took part in the virtual meeting and updated the commissioners on the hospital’s needs.

“Our fixed cost did not decrease when we stopped performing elective surgeries,” Ash said.

He explained the hospital has received some help already from state and federal funding.

“We have had added screening costs, both in equipment and personnel needs,” Ash told the board. “Our technology expenses have also increased with the use of more telemedicine.”

He then brought up UHD’s most immediate concern.

“The biggest need we have right now is to invest in our technology so we are able to operate our satellite clinics,” Ash stated. “It will take about $129,000 to get the other clinics up to speed with new routers, switches, firewalls and other equipment.”

Like UHD, Faribault and Martin County Human Services director Chera Sevcik also told of the need to improve technology.

Sevcik outlined a request for $500,000 for Human Services with Faribault County’s share being 41 percent of the total, or $205,000.

The request from Human Services included $58,000 for security system upgrades, $45,000 for an upgrade to their computer system firewall, $35,000 for increased burial costs and $20,000 for a Zoom license which is HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant.

The Faribault County EDA (Economic Development Authority), represented by county EDA specialist Annie Liebel, was the last entity to speak to the board.

Leibel outlined a request for $600,000 in funding. It would include $355,000 for business grants, $148,000 for non-profit grants and $43,000 to forgive EDA loans which were in good standing.

The board decided to hold another work session on Thursday, Aug. 13, at 8 a.m. to talk to non-public schools, nursing homes and assisted living facilities and Bevcomm.