Myers and Hamsher

Grant County Judge Scott Myers, left and County Commissioner Jim Hamsher during a tense session of County Court Wednesday over the county's handling of the Emergency Operations Center's budget shortfall. Hamsher, EOC liaison, said the $335,000 reimbursement through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will ease the financial impact on the county's budget.

As the Emergency Operations Center faced scrutiny for its budget shortfall and lack of transparency during the June 17 Grant County Court session, the court received news that the county will receive $335,000 from the state’s local government reimbursement program from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

County Commissioner Sam Palmer, EOC public information officer, moved to appoint EOC liaison County Commissioner Jim Hamsher as the grant administrator.

Hamsher said people do not realize how much time it took for the EOC staff to stay on top of the ever-changing guidelines and information coming out of Salem as they worked to put together the county’s phase one reopening plan.

He said one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was how the governor’s office’s guidelines did not take into account how vastly different rural life is in comparison to urban life.

“There’s a disconnect between urban Oregon and rural Oregon,” he said.

For example, Hamsher said the state requires rural fire chiefs in the county to report burn rates on personal protective equipment, but unlike many urban parts of the state, rural fire departments in Grant County do not provide emergency medical services. So the rural fire departments end up submitting, for the most part, the same report to Salem each week, he said.

Hamsher said Gov. Kate Brown wants to have an aide talk to a representative from each county weekly now for 30 minutes a week.

“I think that would be helpful,” he said. “There’s a disconnect when they don’t talk to county commissioners, and we have to watch a briefing on the news.”

He said he is not sure who that county representative will be, but since he has stayed informed, he would like to represent the county.

He said he has put in the time and effort, upwards of 1,000 hours through the pandemic, while he has got paid for just 13.3 hours per week.

“It’s a lot of work trying to keep up with all of these recommendations and changes,” he said. “You do tend to learn some stuff when you devote over 1,000 hours.”

Oregon Department of Administrative Services Communications Director Liz Merah said the top priority with the first round of reimbursements was to replenish the money local governments put out for their direct public health coronavirus response efforts.

“Under the first round of this program, the DAS will reimburse local governments for eligible costs incurred between March 1 and May 15,” she said.

She said local governments are required to submit reimbursement requests based on a list of allowable expenses.

Allowable expenses include medical expenses for public hospitals, clinics, and similar facilities. Public health expenses include communication and enforcement, for which the county received roughly $15,000, protective equipment, the cost to disinfect public areas and facilities and public safety measures.

The county received $17,000 for medical and protective supplies and roughly $55,0000 for technical assistance and threat mitigation of the virus.

Payroll expenses for employees dedicated to the COVID-19 response efforts totaled $215,000.

Reporter

Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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