GREG LOWER

ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners continued budget discussions in a work session Thursday evening, including the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on spending.

The commission met with county department heads Thursday to hear their budget requests, and will continue in another work session Monday evening. The commission’s next regular meeting is Thursday.

Commissioners heard requests from Health Department Administrator Teresa Starr, Personnel Director Jim Mahar, Appraiser Bob McElroy, Emergency Management Director Melanie Kent-Culp and County Attorney Linus Thuston.

The COVID-19 outbreak has limited county spending this year by curtailing travel for training and county employees who work in the field. 

“Nobody’s going out and knocking on doors,” McElroy said.

“I got excited about going to Chanute today,” Kent-Culp said.

Starr said her staff is trying to stay connected with the public, but has been more unable to get out into the field than at any other time.

Department heads mainly requested the same amount of spending as last year. They have been applying for grants because of the pandemic, and the county has received COVID-related funds that will make up for expenses imposed by the outbreak.

Kent-Culp said she is concerned about being able to meet matching requirements for some grants.

Starr said the county budget covers a Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 calendar year, but grants run on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year. At halfway through the county budget, she has used 51 percent of the personnel budget, but 42 percent of commodities and contractual spending.

Starr updated commissioners on county COVID-19 cases and addressed a rumor about a testing event in St. Paul, which she said is not connected to the county.

Starr reported Neosho County had two more positive cases Thursday morning, although two active cases were ready to come off the list Friday. She said that brings the total to 39, including one person who usually lives in the county, but has been away the entire time.

Starr also said she expects to see a bigger influx this year of flu and pneumonia immunization shots.

Starr’s budget total does not include employee raises, which they received last year. She asked for the same amount last year, but did not receive the request.

Mahar said his department wages were at 44 percent of the budget and commodities were at 33 percent. He recommended a reduction of $3,000 in contractual services spending and also a cut in commodities.

Mahar also noted that the county has received $33,000 in health insurance claims, which is 54 percent of premiums. He said that is an excellent ratio.

Besides being unable to travel for classes, McElroy said his staff has limited field work. He said they wear N95 masks when they meet people, and will need to go out to look at new construction, which will increase their risk. He said the state has granted an exception this year to allow drive-by property reviews, which Crawford and Labette counties have done.

Thuston said his office did not include capital outlay funds in past budgets. It did for this year, but has not been able to spend the $75,000 put in for software updates due to the pandemic. He said the courts have put off requirements for the update.

Thuston said he has budgeted a high-end amount for the software, and hopes to be pleasantly surprised later.

Thuston proposed a budget of $267,565. Commodities are the same as last year, but he has a $10,000 increase in contractual services spending.

Courts have opened up some, but are not at the point they were at before the shutdown. Thuston said he has 130 criminal cases to be filed for which he cannot get court dates, and it may be August before that changes. He warned that if COVID-19 numbers continue going up, officials may see the courts close again.

The county attorney’s capital outlay is funded by diversion payments, and Thuston said people are still making them. He is seeking an $8,000 increase for assistant county attorney David Clark, who Thuston said is the most experienced in the region.

 

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