By Jessica Mathews /

A resolution to accept $1.5 (m) million in COVID-19 support and response funds from the state to the county health department was again rejected by the Livingston County Board of Commissioners.

Following nearly three and a half hours of public comment, the Finance Committee voted 6-3 against the resolution. It would have authorized an agreement with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to immunize, conduct testing, tracing, case investigations, infection prevention and enforcement for the pandemic in 2022. In addition to accepting the state funds, the resolution asserted that the board opposed instituting any county-wide emergency declaration and any county-wide vaccine or mask mandates.

Those in support were Committee Chair Mitchell Zajac, who largely authored the resolution, and Commissioners Carol Griffith and Carol Sue Reader. Those not in favor of the funding were Martin Smith, Brenda Plank, Wes Nakagiri, Jay Gross, Jay Drick and Doug Helzerman.

Commissioner Smith proposed an amendment to the resolution to provide funding to the Health Department from the County’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act dollars instead of entering into the contract with the MDHHS. He noted numbers he was provided showed the Department is running roughly $2 (m) million a year above 2019 expenses. Smith stated he felt it was imperative they fund the department on an ongoing basis and be prepared for the unknown. Smith said his contention, rightly or wrongly, is “that we don’t know if this is going to get worse or not or go away” – adding he’s not known as an optimist and thinks they need to continue the level of funding provided in the past.

Some Commissioners expressed a desire to have a review from legal counsel on both the state contract and ARPA funding before proceeding to get some guidance on various concerns. It was stated that there are lots of questions surrounding the ARPA funding and what is eligible. County Administrator Nathan Burd told WHMI that COVID response is an eligible use for ARPA funding.

Smith’s amendment was procedurally declared an out-of-order motion because it was considered a material alteration. The board did appear open to further discussing Smith’s amendment to use ARPA funds but it would need to be put into resolution form, which could possibly be a topic at Monday’s meeting.

Most all commissioners commended the Health Department for its work and noted the many calls, emails and other correspondence they’ve received from people on both sides of the issue.

The resolution also stated the Health Department would implement and work to expand a quarantine opt-out program for all interested local school districts.

Some expressed concerns with quarantine protocols for schools, including Board Chair Wes Nakagiri who commented he would not support funding for what he felt was bad policy and the quarantining of healthy students. He said he didn’t see the logic behind extensive quarantining and pointed to statistics he said showed COVID is less of a problem for young people and it largely doesn’t affect them more than the flu. Another reason Nakagiri citied in voting against the funding was related to $917,000 for vaccination efforts, saying data shows there is ample capacity in the private sector and in his view; the bulk of the money is not needed.

Commissioner Doug Helzerman said he supported funding for the department and noted that the board last September entered into almost the same contract and they’ve been under that language for a year. However, Helzerman said he could not support the part dedicating almost $1 (m) million toward vaccination efforts as he feels most people who want to get vaccinated in the county already are. He also pushed to have the board further discuss Smith’s proposal at Monday’s meeting but it’s unclear if it will make it on to the agenda or not.

In supporting the funding, Commissioner Carol Griffith said the Health Department is a very trusted resource and has done a lot of good work and didn’t want to “tie their hands” - noting it has handled thousands of emails, calls and inquires with a skeleton crew. She added that she’s very concerned about the stress they’re putting on a health field that needs extra staff and has issues finding people to work. Griffith also noted the board has received letters from Community Mental Health, which was very concerned about the funding going away, as well as from the two medical facilities in the area about beds being filled.

Commissioner Zajac commented that the Department still has the authority to do what it may do, noting its good work in times of great stress and limited resources. For the quarantine opt-out policy, he said they’ve done a nice job and it lets kids be in the classroom but it’s not perfect yet. Zajac asserted he advocates for parental control overall and felt the board had a good discussion and spirited debate on an important issue.

Commissioner Drick had various concerns with the state contract for the funding and felt it laden with requirements and “steamroller terms” designed for the county’s failure – referring to it as “a very bully contract that’s not co-equal.”

Commissioner Gross stated he was adamantly opposed to vaccinating children and people being forced to get vaccinated under the threat of losing their job.

Commissioner Brenda Plank said she could not support the resolution and felt the county has funds available and thus would not be leaving the Department in the lurch.

Commissioner Carol Sue Reader it’s a divisive issue but they are looking out for the welfare of everyone and asked for patience. She said they don’t have to please everyone but need to come up with a solution somewhere in the middle where no one is getting hurt –saying that’s “the whole idea of having a healthy, safe community”.