Monterey County departments outline six-month COVID-19 spending plan

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — In an indication of how long Monterey County officials believe the COVID-19 pandemic will last locally, county department officials on Tuesday unveiled a $33 million virus response spending plan for the first six months of the year.

In all, 13 county departmental budget units submitted COVID-19 spending plans for Jan. 1 through July 1 this year, totaling a little over $33 million.

According to county budget director Ezekiel Vega, about $21.5 million of the plan has an identified funding source while about $11.5 million would still need to be funded.

County Administrative Officer Charles McKee noted that former Supervisor Jane Parker recommended conducting a comprehensive review of upcoming pandemic-related spending requests rather than handling them “piecemeal,” or as they come up.

County health, social services, Natividad and the Sheriff’s Office combined for the bulk of the spending proposals, proposing between $8.1 million and $7.15 million each for a total of about $30.3 million.

Natividad did not explain its request for the highest budget request — $8.1 million — because it reported having identifying funding for the entire amount.

County health estimated its $8 million COVID-19 budget would include about $3.375 million to pay employees redirected to pandemic-related work, more than $2.8 million of that without a current funding source, along with $1.46 million for lab infrastructure and supplies, which has about $890,000 in funding sources, as well as about $1.26 million for testing services at VNA-backed pop-up testing sites, curbside clinics and congregate living center testing, and nearly $832,000 for temporary contact tracing and case investigation staff, neither of which has any identified funding.

Public health lab refrigerators, freezers and testing equipment ($571,000), a food assistance and stipend pilot project through February ($350,000), and vaccine administration staff and security ($192,000) are also without funding sources.

County social services, with a $7 million pandemic budget, is seeking up to $3.9 million in funding to extend the Great Plates senior meal program past its Feb. 7 expiration for six months to be paid from cannabis tax revenue and reimbursed from government funding sources, as well as the CARES Act senior meals program reaching lower-income seniors not covered by the Great Plates program, and which ended on Dec. 30 and would cost about $866,000 to re-start and run for six months.

In addition, an extension of Project Roomkey providing motel rooms for homeless and other vulnerable people past February would also cost about $2.28 million, with a disaster response grant covering about $457,000 of the cost and the rest covered by hoped-for FEMA reimbursement and county funding.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office reports it’s about $1.7 million short on funding for a $7.15 million spending plan, with the bulk of that ($644,000) for overtime pay for redirected staff, along with about $303,000 for additional coroner’s autopsy and body storage lease costs, $171,000 for COVID-19 testing for county jail staff and inmates, $132,000 for security guards to conduct temperature checks, and about $90,000 for emergency paid leave, as well as smaller amounts for software, school resource officers, and workplace preparedness.

McKee’s office is seeking $1 million for an extension of the Workforce Development Board’s small business relief grant program as the local economy continues to struggle amid the ongoing pandemic-related lockdowns, and its Emergency Operations Center budget of about $841,000 is about $210,000 short of covering alternate housing site and United Way call center costs, while its Office of Emergency Services plans to spend $171,000 on temporary disaster assistance staff using county employees to work four-week shifts at the alternate housing sites.

Also Tuesday, the county board heard a report on the pilot public outreach and education program aimed at reaching mostly poor Latinos in the county’s hardest-hit ZIP codes with information and assistance, and approved about $1 million in community development block grant funding for a rental assistance program.

The board also cast a split 3-2 vote to remand to the county Planning Commission an application by Salinas construction magnate Don Chapin for a cannabis retail shop and associated operations at the former McShane’s Nursery site off Monterey-Salinas Highway near Salinas for consideration of a special treatment area designation including a general plan amendment for the project site alone to allow cannabis retail sales on agriculture-zoned property. Board chairwoman Wendy Root Askew and Supervisor Mary Adams dissented and argued they were against singling out a proposed project site and expressed concern about a potential precedent. After planning analysis and California Environmental Quality Act review, the proposal could return to the commission by this summer and the county board by October.

Contributed by local news sources

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