By Mike Kruzman /

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to help fund the local health department’s COVID response that, at least some on the Board feel, is more tailored to fit local residents’ needs.

Last week, the Board turned down $1.5-million in funding fearing it had too many strings attached from the state. Though not on Monday’s agenda, Commissioner Martin Smith and then Chairman Wes Nakagiri brought separate resolutions to the Board for the consideration of using American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA funds, in its place. Following a 5-4 vote to push Nakagiri’s resolution into consideration first, Commissioners proceeded to lay friendly amendment after friendly amendment on top of it to find something that might pass.

Nakagiri’s resolution started at funding the health department with a to-be-determined amount of ARPA funds through December 31st. He recommended $150,000. His rationale was that if you take away the $917,000 from the $1.5-million that would be used for vaccination efforts, then you’re left with roughly $600,000 remaining. That equates to $150,000 per quarter. Nakagiri read the resolution aloud, saying it was a plan more tailored to meet the specific needs of Livingston County residents without having to comply with the terms, conditions, and use constraints imposed by the State, which he and other commissioners found objectionable. He said the specific needs are expanding access within Livingston County to monoclonal antibody treatments and other therapeutics; conducting vaccinations at the Livingston County Health Department; administering vaccines to the 400-500 homebound citizens in the county; coordinating, ordering, and distributing vaccines to health care providers; providing education and resources for an alternative to vaccines in response to COVID-19; and fulfilling statutory requirements. Funds may not be used to vaccinate minors without parental or guardian consent; to institute county-wide vaccine or mask mandates; to implement policies that are more restrictive than state policies with respect to discriminating between the vaccinated and unvaccinated; or for implementing policies that are more restrictive than the state’s which cause healthy students to be excluded from school and extra-curricular activities.

Commissioner Doug Helzerman moved that the amount be changed to $500,000 for the upcoming 3-month duration.

County Administrator Nathan Burd then spoke and said that $150,000 per quarter total isn’t enough to cover half of the county’s COVID-response average through the pandemic. Burd said that since March of 2020, the County has averaged $383,000 per quarter on COVID response. He noted that that includes all the months before the vaccine was around, saying that if you take that into consideration, then the number would actually be higher. Burd said there are ebbs and flows with case counts, and they, right now, have a very high case count. With the December 31st deadline, he called that “better than nothing,” but points out that it makes it difficult to fill their vacancies. They have 5 vacancies currently, and if they only have guaranteed funding through December, Burd feared that not only will they not fill those needed spots, but existing staff will leave without that job security.

Commissioner Carol Sue Reader then made a friendly amendment to provide $500,000 of ARPA funding to the LCHD through September 30, 2022.

Nakagiri said he was against the amendment, as he felt the amount is too high. He did agree with the rationale of it being better for the hiring of people with a later expiration date. Nakagiri also said he is thankful, amended or not, that they have given specific direction with monoclonal antibody treatments, and limiting vaccinations to the health department’s site.

Commissioners voted 7-2 in favor of amending the resolution.

Commissioner Mitchell Zajac then made a motion to replace “ARPA” in the resolution to “general fund” and use those dollars instead. He said they had wanted to be proud of their use of ARPA funds, and he doesn’t feel that way with this. Saying he was a “vehement supporter” of the $1.5-million, Zajac said he stands by the notion that “we screwed this up.” His motion died without a second for support.

The motion to pass the resolution for $500,000 of ARPA funding to the LCHD per quarter through September 30, 2022, passed 6-3.

Several residents were critical of the decision during the second call to the public. Stacy Farrell of Oceola Township said she was glad the LCHD was getting funded but said Zajac wasn’t wrong, and this “was a screw up of epic proportions.”

Sherry Valdez of Marion Township was also happy with the funding but said she was appalled that they turned down $1.5-million from the state to go after this funding, which will equate to $2-million.

Justin Braska of Handy Township thanked the Board for their efforts, telling them he felt they spent an appropriate amount of time on the funding topic and that they heard everybody out. He applauded their plans at “trying to fix things” and hopes people can get past their anger and see the good things they are trying to do for the community.

Tonya DeFever of Handy Township, though, said she was “deeply confused and disappointed” that the original money was refused and now as to why they are using this money.

Kasey Helton of Marion Township said they were upset because the state was offering this money that they voted in favor of the last time around. She said they were “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” She said this is money going to the LCHD, now, that could have gone towards broadband and other needed infrastructure in the county.