OSWEGO — Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been expensive, and Oswego County lawmakers last week approved another $200,000 for coronavirus-related expenses, bringing the county’s current total to $1.3 million.
The Oswego County Legislature unanimously approved the $200,000 cash infusion for the COVID-19 response account, which legislators established last year to better track the expenses and apply for federal reimbursement. Legislators have also passed a series of cost-saving measures over the past year, including hiring and spending freezes, to reduce spending at a time when sales tax and other revenues are uncertain.
COVID-19 cases in Oswego County have fallen significantly in recent weeks, but the ongoing vaccination effort led by the county health department is in its early stages and is expected to continue throughout 2021. Disease tracking and investigation also remains necessary for new cases of the virus, in addition to various other coronavirus-related expenses in the county.
The $1.3 million in COVID response funding has come from the county’s unappropriated fund balance, or savings from previous budget years. County officials are anticipating reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but it’s not clear when that reimbursement might come.
In a memo to legislators, County Administrator Phil Church said the COVID response account was down to roughly $7,650, adding that is not enough to adequately fund the county’s response in the near term. With the vaccination effort still in its infancy and the county playing a major role in that effort, expenses are anticipated to continue adding up.
Church told legislators the county is still incurring preventative, monitoring and clinic costs, and noted the “largest drains on the account” are personnel for clinics and contact tracing investigations, screening at county buildings and quarantine/isolation costs.
The county established the COVID response account in early 2020 to fund and track county expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initially funded with $100,000, the fund has been used to procure personal protective equipment and supplies to ensure employee safety, in addition to the local response from the county health department, public information office, emergency management staff and sheriff’s office. Funds were also used for technology to aid in the county’s transition to remote work and other related expenses.
Church noted the county submitted a reimbursement claim to FEMA for a little less than $500,000, and officials are currently preparing a second claim. The first claim is under review by FEMA, but Church said it’s not clear how long it will take for FEMA to process and reimburse each claim.
County officials initially anticipated FEMA would cover 75 percent of the costs, but Church said last week new federal policy could reimburse 100 percent of the costs moving forward.