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Jackson unveils plan for spending COVID funds

JACKSON – A plan is now in place in Northampton County to allocate funding from the state for COVID-19-related expenditures. County Manager Charles Jackson laid out the detailed proposal for the Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting here June 15.

Jackson first announced the county would receive a total of $566,995 during their emergency meeting on May 13 to address local concerns about the ongoing pandemic. Since then, he worked to develop a plan to distribute the money to different departments to address different needs.

Broken down by category, the majority (63 percent) of that money will go to cover public health expenses. Medical expenses will receive 19 percent of the funds while economic support, mainly to local long-term care facilities, will constitute 12 percent. Compliance with public health measures and payroll expenses will both receive an allocation of three percent each.

With a total of $360,012, the public health expenses will include sanitization of county offices to protect the health of both employees and the public. It will also allow for the acquisition of personal protective equipment and other medical devices for various departments.

In the medical expense category, the $106,000 allocation will help supplement spending for the health department and EMS. It will also improve testing and contract tracing efforts.

Jackson also noted, “this allows the health department to be very mobile throughout the county to provide testing.”

The county announced recently they are providing mobile testing sites in several towns including Gaston, Conway, and Seaboard this month. Tests are by appointment only and can be scheduled by calling the health department at 252-534-5841.

A total of $66,096 is dedicated for contingency/economic support. Most of that support, Jackson explained, will go towards the county’s long-term care facilities to help them stay in compliance with public health measures. He said this decision stemmed from an earlier meeting where the board discussed ways they could help support long-term care facilities which were struggling with virus outbreaks.

The majority of the COVID-19-related deaths in the county have stemmed from outbreaks at those facilities.

There was some discussion amongst the board about whether or not the economic support money could also be used to provide aid to small businesses who have been impacted by the pandemic. Board Chair Charles Tyner suggested, for example, businesses might need assistance installing protective barriers or complying with state-mandated guidelines.

Jackson emphasized that the primary purpose of the allotted funds was to mitigate exposure to COVID-19 which is why much of this portion of the funding was focused on supporting long-term care facilities. He said he didn’t know yet how much money would be left after distribution for other local businesses, and then he would have to figure out how to prioritize those funds.

Continuing the presentation, Jackson said a total of $20,000 is allocated for payroll expenses. Those funds will go towards healthcare employees focused on responding to the pandemic and also to compensate Health Department Medical Director Dr. Frank Taylor.

“We want to thank Dr. Taylor for all his hard work,” Jackson added, expressing his gratitude for his continual work in directing the county’s medical response to the virus.

Lastly, $14,887 will be set aside for compliance with COVID-19 measures, primarily to cover expenses associated with maintaining the county jail.

After the county manager’s presentation, Tyner asked for some clarification on the funding breakdown by department, particularly in regards to the 14 percent for the Register of Deeds office.

“The funds are requested so the records from 1741 to 1990 can be put online and be accessible to our customers. Currently, the records from 1991 to present are already online,” explained Northampton County Register of Deeds Robin Williams

When customers come into the office, they sometimes have to share the record books with other people who are also conducting research, and the vault which contains the records would not have room to put barriers up. Williams said that made social distancing compliance extremely difficult.

“The funds are being used to make sure that we can keep people from crowding that space and reduce the risk of the spread of the virus,” Jackson also pointed out. “To maintain the sanitation of that particular space would cost us a lot of funds, so we’re actually saving money on the back end by not having to sanitize this space so frequently.”

Jackson also pointed out that one of the recent executive orders by Governor Roy Cooper included the Register of Deeds office as an essential service.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner said she knew that some citizens had been delayed in moving into new homes because they were unable to access records at the Register of Deeds office, so the virus had exposed how important access to that information is.

After the discussion concluded, Faulkner motioned to approve the plan submitted by the county manager. Commissioner Kelvin Edwards seconded, and the vote was unanimously in favor.

Later in the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a budget amendment to accept the total $566,995 allocation.