Jackson County legislators have approved more funding to get ready for an expected surge of COVID-19 cases, and officials acknowledged taking on a degree of financial risk in doing so.
The County Legislature on Monday approved $4 million chiefly for Truman Medical Centers, the county’s Corrections Department and the medical examiner’s office. That also includes $500,000 for the Sheriff’s Office, some of which is to be passed on to local jurisdictions.
Much of the money is for personal protective equipment – PPE has become the common phrase during the coronavirus crisis – such as masks, shields and heavy-duty coverings to protect medical personnel and others on the front lines of care.
County Administrator Troy Schulte said the county is buying PPE for the county as a whole, to get better prices, and then sending that along to TMC, the jail, the Health Department and elsewhere.
“What you’ve got now is the federal government and all the states and all the counties and hospitals competing for a finite supply,” Schulte told legislators Monday. “So when there’s demand, prices go up. And that’s what we’re dealing with at this point.”
Schulte said he expects the federal government ultimately to pick up these costs.
“We should receive most of these revenues back to us by the end of the fiscal year,” he said.
But he also pointed out that sometimes with the state and federal governments reimbursement takes a great deal of time.
Congress passed and the president signed last week $2 trillion in coronavirus relief in a variety of forms – and more from Congress is expected – but Schulte said officials are still sorting out those details. It’s unknown, for example, if money coming from Washington to Jackson County is for county purposes or if some of it gets passed on to cities in the county.
Schulte also expressed a degree of frustration.
“And at this point, what we’ve seen – at least in my opinion – from the state and federal government is ‘Good luck, we’ll help if we can and as things pop up,’ and I think they’re walking through it,” Schulte said.
The county has unbudgeted reserves it can draw on, though Legislative Auditor Crissy Wooderson said the impact of the crisis on sales taxes is not yet clear.
“So in other words we might be writing checks that we cannot cash,” said Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit.
Schulte conceded that point and said the county is taking “a measured risk.”
“But the risk is that we don’t get the reimbursement (from Washington) on a timely basis,” he said.
Schulte also stressed that this is a tough call for legislators but that he thinks they are doing the right thing to get ready while other levels of government are not helping much.
“We just want to be able to meet the needs as they arise without having to have emergency meeting after emergency meeting with you guys (and) have some confidence that Truman’s got the resources that they can make that expenditure,” he said.
The county is also trying to find $2 million in savings in current programs, and the courts are doing the same, Schulte said.
Some officials have suggested that if it comes down to it, the county could tap into the capital improvement fund that it set up a couple years ago.
Galvin does not like that idea.
“I’m going to be one person that’s not very happy if we start digging in it and it’s not used for what it’s intended for,” she said.