Cole County Commission approves more federal COVID-19 relief funding requests

Document: Cole County CARES Act Funding Requests Approved Sept. 10, 2020

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The Cole County Commission approved more federal COVID-19 relief funding distribution requests Thursday.

Cole County received $9 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds in May and started accepting applications for portions of the funding last month, after hiring BKD, a Springfield accounting firm, to assist the county in meeting its obligations under the CARES Act for purchases related to the pandemic.

Most of the items approved Thursday were for the Cole County courts, at a total of $42,525.

The money for this equipment will come from the $3.6 million of the $9 million in CARES Act money the commission set aside for internal county needs.

Earlier this week, Judge Jon Beetem told commissioners the courts planned to use off-site venues instead of the Cole County Courthouse in an attempt to maintain a civil trail docket. Social distancing limits jury panels to 15 people at a time, where they would normally summon 60 people at a time. Instead of taking a half-day to pick a jury, it would take an entire day to get through the process; but using a large venue would allow them to pick a jury in their regular fashion and try a case while maintaining social distancing, Beetem said.

The commission approved the $5,000 the courts requested to cover these expenses for 10- to 12-day civil jury trials.

The commission also approved the courts’ request for $9,000 for more audio/visual equipment to use during criminal trials at the courthouse.

Criminal trials can’t be moved from the courthouse because of security issues, so in these cases they will have to pick juries in small groups, Beetem said.

“Because of social distancing, after a jury is impaneled, we lack the constitutionally required public access, so we are proposing to use the courthouse video-conferencing system to capture the trial and broadcast it to other courtrooms in the building for viewing,” Beetem said. “This will require additional television carts, and we’ll need additional TVs because the jury — again due to social-distancing requirements — will have to be spread out in the courtroom during the trial because they can’t just sit in the jury box.”

The commission also approved the court’s request to hire additional cleaning staff at the courthouse for the next four months for $20,000.

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Beetem told commissioners circuit clerk staff had been wiping down benches, doorknobs, railings on staircases and other high-traffic areas of the courthouse on top of their normal duties, as there was no one designated to do the additional cleaning needed during the pandemic.

The commissioners held off on approving a $20,000 request for monthly deep cleaning of the courthouse for the next four months, citing questions about the effectiveness of this approach.

The commission also held off on approving a $15,000 request from the courts for 10 telework stations for court clerks and pre-trial release staff, saying they wanted more information about the request.

Beetem said the courts had requested this because they are setting up a portion of the circuit clerk staff to work remotely in response to the pandemic. These would be people with children or who are at high risk for COVID-19 infection.

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Other internal county needs the commission approved funds for Thursday include $867 for a window intercom in the Public Administrator’s Office in the courthouse, $3,450 for a Plexiglas barrier for the front counter at the County Assessor’s Office, and $8,995 for a hyper-flexible simulator for Cole County EMS.

Cole County EMS has received a total of $674,072 in CARES Act funds, as of Thursday.

Along with a $2,177 request from Lighthouse Preparatory Academy for electrostatic sprayer and disinfectant, the commission approved a total of $58,014 in CARES Act funding requests Thursday.

The County Commission has approved a total of $888,153 in CARES Act funding requests since beginning the process Aug. 19. That leaves $8,111,847 in available CARES Act money in Cole County.

BKD officials said Thursday they will work with County Attorney Jill Lahue on a possible appeals process for applicants whose funding requests weren’t approved.

So far, the County Commission has denied three requests for CARES Act funds. They include a request from EMS for a Chevrolet Tahoe and emergency lighting for $42,700. It was denied because BKD determined it did not meet necessity requirements. EMS was also denied a $6,761 request for a copier because there was already money in the EMS budget for this.

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The commission also denied a request from the Jamestown C-1 School District for $4,795 because, although some students from Cole County attend school in the Jamestown district, it does not qualify for CARES Act funds from Cole County because the physical school building is not in the county. The Jamestown district did receive funding from Moniteau County.

Those who have been awarded funding, after being notified, have 10 business days to return their agreement to the county. If they do not do so by that time, then their funds go back into the county’s CARES Act pool.

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