Dubuque County supervisors and county Board of Health members July 20 weighed whether it was appropriate for county funds to be spent purchasing personal protective equipment for staff and students in schools.
“PPE (personal protective equipment) — masks, supplies, thermometers, hand sanitizer — there may be a need for us to provide some of this in the schools,” said Board of Health Chairman Tom Bechen during his budget amendment pitch to the supervisors.
It was not specifically included in the board’s $865,800 amendment proposal, but it was one thing that the Board of Health considered when estimating needing $100,000 for PPE purchases in the next nine months.
While not yet a specific proposal, it became the hottest topic of debate in nearly 40 minutes of discussion.
Supervisor Ann McDonough took issue with the idea of the county footing the bill for such a purchase since the school districts have the authority to levy taxes themselves.
“We don’t often run to using our tax dollars to support other taxing bodies,” she said.
County Budget Director Stella Runde, too, said it was not standard operating procedure.
“It’s not something that we typically do, as they have their own levying authority and own power to do those things,” she said. “I’m not necessarily against it, but they have their own power.”
Supervisor Jay Wickham, though, insisted that schoolchildren in the county are just as much a part of the citizenry as anyone else, so they are the county’s responsibility.
“The county provides additional oversight in many areas — law and order, collect(ing) taxes. We run the jail, and we provide the Department of Health functions,” he said. “If you’re implying that you’re not going to provide funding for schools just because they’re their own tax authority, during a pandemic, that’s why we have overarching, across all tax bases, the ability to appropriate funds. They’re clearly a health issue.”
Supervisor Dave Baker said he, too, was comfortable with the idea.
“I don’t believe that the Dubuque schools or West Dubuque schools or Holy Family have a separate board of health,” he said. “We’d be providing masks for our citizens, which is everyone in the county.”
McDonough said she doubted the $100,000 would be enough to purchase PPE for the county’s children, in any case.
“To determine that we can provide a mask or two or three for everyone involved in public education and private education, your budget is not sufficient,” she said. “If we’re going to provide masks with everyone associated with education, should we not also provide masks for other sectors of the economy? At some point, we have to decide what our role is.”
Bechen said the number was based on the estimated number of students in the county — 20,000 — as provided to him by Ed Raber, interim executive director for the Board of Supervisors, per Baker’s request.
Even so, McDonough joined Baker and Wickham in voting for the budget amendment.
Bechen said the possibility of an outbreak in a school contributed to the Board of Health’s $150,000 request for funding to potentially operate a drive-up test site.
“If we would, God forbid, have a positive case in one of our schools, we don’t know how that would look for additional testing,” he said.
The supervisors appropriated $500,000 to the Board of Health in the early stages of the pandemic, so the $355,000 of that sum that was not spent last fiscal year will go toward the $865,800 budget amendment this fiscal year. Runde said the remainder of the amount will come out of the county’s general fund.
The budget amendment amount also includes $450,000 to pay for Visiting Nurse Association services, $20,000 for advertising for mask usage and $145,800 for isolation shelter costs.