Spotsylvania County supervisors have decided to spend millions in federal COVID-19 pandemic funding on first responders.
The county received $11.8 million in federal CARES Act funds for costs incurred because of the pandemic.
Assistant County Administrator Bonnie Jewell asked the supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting to approve spending all that money to cover first responders’ salaries. She said that would allow the county to directly cover the costs for those workers in the pandemic while freeing up local funding for other costs.
Jewell told the board the county’s public safety costs have already increased by $8 million due to COVID-19.
Supervisors asked if there would be audit concerns.
Jewell said local public safety workers have continuously dealt with the virus since the outbreak, wearing special protective gear and the like. She added that the county could “make our case” for the expenses.
She also said “timing is of the essence” because a lot of work is needed on the budget. She also said the county needs the flexibility the option offers.
The board approved the measure.
While the board did not vote on how to use the freed up local funds, Jewell laid out a plan to distribute the money for various expenditures, including $3.3 million in technology improvements for telework and conference room improvements to help enhance electronic communications. Another $5.5 million could be used for capital improvement projects. The county cut the capital budget earlier this year because of pandemic concerns.
Another $2.5 million is earmarked for expected additional costs for the school system to operate this year, which led to discussion and some disagreement between supervisors.
Supervisor Tim McLaughlin wanted to make sure there is “accountability” and wondered if there would be a list of specific expenditures the school system says it needs.
County Administrator Ed Petrovitch said staff would compile specifics on the spending and bring that back to the supervisors.
Several supervisors said they should send the money to the school system now so the needed technical supplies, such as laptops for students to help with distance learning, can be ready for the scheduled start of school Aug. 17. Students will take courses online for at least the first nine weeks.
But other supervisors said school officials should explain to them why they need more money. McLaughlin and Supervisor David Ross, regular critics of school spending, voiced doubts about what the school system needs.
McLaughlin said the school system should have saved money on services it didn’t have to provide during the pandemic and said that could be used to cover additional technology expenses. Ross wondered what has changed since last year, asking if some students weren’t provided such supplies when they were forced to learn from home at the end of the year because of the pandemic.
Chairman Gary Skinner disagreed with both, saying these are extraordinary times and children are too important to haggle over money.
“Give it to the schools and hold them accountable for it,” Skinner said. “This should not be a debate during this time.”
Supervisor Chris Yakabouski said school officials are planning on a more intense virtual learning program this year and are still figuring the costs of that. Supervisor Kevin Marshall said “the timing of this is awful” and doubted laptops could be bought and distributed in time for the start of school.
Petrovitch said he would talk with school officials to determine if they need funds for the laptops now.
In other business, the supervisors approved a long list of projects, several of which are related to water and sewer system work.
- The supervisors approved $152,200 for preliminary engineering for the construction of a 1 million gallon elevated water storage tank along the south side of Guinea Station Road next to Massaponax High School. The company hired for the preliminary engineering, Hazen and Sawyer, wrote in a report to the county that it will provide alternatives for the water tank.
- The board approved a public hearing regarding $17.4 million in bonds for improvement and expansion of the county’s water and sewer system.
- Another public hearing was approved for the proposed creation of a satellite office for absentee voting.
- The board authorized the sale of $51 million in bonds for school technology, new buses and capital maintenance projects along with work at the Interstate 95 interchange at Thornburg. The money also would be used to lower interest rates on outstanding bonds.
- The board approved a $158,000 to fund a feasibility study for a roundabout at Old Plank Road and Andora Drive.
- After a public hearing, a proffer amendment was approved for a New Post development to delay commercial space construction, with the developer instead paying $6,071 in estimated annual real estate tax.
- Following a second public hearing, the board approved a Comprehensive Plan update for the transportation plan, the first since 2013. The update includes planning for projects and approaches through 2040 along with major changes to the Trailways Master Plan.
- A third public hearing addressed a zoning amendment for data centers, requiring a minimum for parking spaces for these businesses, which the supervisors approved.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436