CANYON CITY - When cult members infected more than 700 citizens of The Dalles with salmonella, Sherman County found itself in a crisis situation.

Last week, the Grant County Court took advantage of a federal program to guard against a similar act of bioterrorism in Grant County. A $60,000 grant will help the county hire a specialist trained to organize a response should a bioterror attack occur.

"This person that has this job will make a plan according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines to develop our response to a bioterrorist incident," explained public health nurse Johnnie Titus.

The Grant County Court voted 3-0 on Aug. 28 to approve the position, with a monthly salary in the range of $2,287 to $2,632.

The bioterrorism/communicable disease public health nurse will maintain a list of personnel and sites for an organized response to an attack. For example, in the case of a smallpox outbreak, this person could coordinate with the county's emergency management coordinator, David Cary, to direct medical and law enforcement activities to investigate the source and protect public health.

In other health-related actions, the Grant County Court approved the purchase of miscellaneous furniture and supplies at the Grant County Health Department. Women, Infants and Children funding allowed Titus to budget $3,420 for items such as a bulletin board, bookcase, baby-changing table, stove, coat rack, breast-feeding trainer and chairs. A separate $968 allocation allowed the acquisition of a treatment table for Marsha Delaney.

In other business:

Cary, who serves as personnel manager as well as emergency management coordinator, updated the County Court on proposed revisions to the county's personnel policy.

To prevent abuses of sick days, sometimes used as padding prior to holidays, the policy has been clarified to state that holiday pay is awarded only to employees who work at least 80 days within the pay cycle.

Also, the policy requires employees to use up accrued compensatory time before they can take vacation days. Treasurer Kathy Smith warned that this provision may irk employees who have reached their 240-hour cap on vacation time because of perceived loss of additional vacation hours.

However, County Court members noted that comp time accrual remains a problem in several departments. Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds recommended wording that states that the County Court will make budget adjustments to cover the cost of comp time accrual only on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, departments may be forced to dig into their own budgets to pay the difference.

Per county policy, comp hours accrued over 60 hours are paid automatically at the time-and-a-half rate. Sixty hours is the county's intended cap on comp time, although many employees have mustered 200 or more hours on the books.

Also in personnel matters, the County Court voted 3-0 to approve leave with pay for Barbara Thompson, new mental health director for the county. This vote assured Thompson that she would be paid for the days of Aug. 30 and Sept. 3 during the time that she was moving.

The County Court voted 3-0 to provide a $399 contribution to the Association of Oregon Counties in support of a $108,000 fund-raising initiative aimed at investigating the crisis facing the Public Employees Retirement System. This system, which threatens many counties with bankruptcy due to its benefit commitments, is the focus of an AOC task force.

Nick Sheedy of John Day was awarded an $8,200 grant under Title III of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The grant helps pay for a documentary film concerning fire-fuel reduction operations on Little Canyon Mountain.

The county solicited comments on the grant proposal and received no responses. The film will be 20-30 minutes and "document a comprehensive fire-fuel reduction operation on private timbered lands on Little Canyon Mountain," according to Sheedy's proposal. "Emphasis in the documentation will be made on risks of wildfire, the historic landscape and fire-adapted ecosystems," as well as a variety of other forestry-related topics.

Commissioner Leonard Trafton praised Roger Williams, acting forest supervisor for the Malheur National Forest, for his support of reactivation of the Lake Creek Youth Camp in Logan Valley. Sewage tanks have been installed to cope with environmental concerns at the site, Trafton reported.

The County Court agreed to meet on Wednesday, Sept. 4, notwithstanding the Labor Day holiday. Part of the urgency stemmed from the need to review a Meyer Memorial Trust grant for upgrading Depot Park's Dewitt Museum in Prairie City. See related story link below.

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