By Lyra Bordelon
This piece is a local follow up to to the Mountain State Spotlight article titled ‘The governor pledged ‘hero pay’ for COVID-19 first responders. Few have seen a dime of it.’ For context, read that article first.
Governor Jim Justice’s $100,000 block grant came to Greenbrier County after it was announced, but the Greenbrier County Commission was advised not to utilize the funds for overtime pay. Instead, the block grant was used to purchase personal protective equipment and courthouse upgrades.
Greenbrier County Commissioner Tammy Shifflett-Tincher explained that restrictions on various types of income from the state and federal governments are the primary reason the funds weren’t used for direct bonuses.
“He made his statement, and understandably so, it was a well intentioned statement, but what he intended to use the money for is, ultimately, not a good financial practice for any county to do,” explained Tincher. “We were advised by the state auditor’s office and legal counsel that [the grant] is not a method to give bonuses to employees. The governor’s comment was also to support and give bonuses to frontline workers that are not even associated with, as employees, the county. That cannot be done, at all.”
Outside of the possibility of misusing funds with legal restrictions, the county could also be forced to pay back any improper reimbursements.
“It put a lot of county commissioners in a bad position, I think a lot of county commissioners are still dealing with it,” Tincher said. “… I made a statement to our law enforcement team for them to understand because there were a couple of counties that … gave funds out of different pots of money that they could make a decision to do that. … The direction that Greenbrier County took was that it was not an authorized use of funds to be able to give bonuses.”
Noting that the county did not have any law enforcement overtime specifically related to COVID-19, the funds were instead used to pursue upgrades for the courthouse and personal equipment in order to protect county workers. Since the pandemic began and the Greenbrier County Courthouse reopened, a variety of new protective measures have been put in place, including new shields, social distancing seating, and the ability to call in remotely for the majority of court case hearings.
“We utilized those funds to purchase personal protective equipment for all departments within the courthouse, our law enforcement, community corrections, day report, home confinement, all of them,” Tincher said. “Cleaning supplies, all necessities needed for the safety of employees. We also utilized the funds to purchase protective guards for desks in the courthouses for individuals who deal with the public. …We also utilized the funds to purchase the CURIS [decontamination system], which is the cleaning mechanism that is used by the National Guard to clean building and areas for COVID or any other type of contagious disease. If we have an outbreak of the flu or any type of issue in the future that’s not COVID related, we can utilize that.”
The commissioners have also received CARES Act funding, and are applying for more, to provide addition equipment for law enforcement. She thanked all the county employees and those working on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic.
“We recognize all of our law enforcement and first responders, even our employees who worked in the courthouse on a regular basis during the shutdown,” Tincher said. “They still [are] being put in a position where they are working with people and are being put at risk on a daily basis. We try to do everything we can to make sure everyone can do that safely.”