The county commissioners approved a resolution to apply for a relief block grant of $12,805,164 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development through the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act program at their Thursday meeting.
The monies can be used for COVID-related costs, including grants for small business recovery, grants to nonprofit agencies, funding for economic development corporations, and allocations for behavioral health and substance abuse agencies.
On July 3, Lebanon County achieved ‘green’ status, according to the state, the last of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to achieve that designation, opening more businesses and venues for entertainment.
CARES grants for counties are not dependent on reaching any of Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening phases, but are federal relief grants, said County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.
Even in the green phase, CDC guidelines for precautionary measures will continue, including wearing masks in public places, frequent hand washing, and social distancing – staying six feet away from the next person – to curb the spread of COVID-19, Wolgemuth said.
Officials in Lebanon County pushed last month to open the county before Governor Tom Wolf had formally moved the county into the ‘yellow’ phase.
Both commissioners Bob Phillips and Bill Ames made their preferences official in voting to move Lebanon County into the yellow phase in order to help local businesses, while Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz felt it prudent to wait until the number of COVID-19 cases leveled off.
In another matter, when presented with a request for $5,500 from the hotel tax grant for an event to be held in the Lebanon Expo Center, the commissioners had a difference of opinion.
MotorRama Productions, Inc. of Hanover requested the money to be used for promoting its annual “Drag Fest” to be held in January, to be used for billboard and television advertising to expand their range of customers.
The show normally draws many people from outside the county.
All three commissioners were fine with the event itself, but Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said they should consider the ramifications of another COVID-19 surge before awarding the money.
“If this would be another year, it would be great to expand their advertising, but suppose we’re on lockdown at that time?” Litz asked.
Because the TV advertisements could draw people from other states, that’s another consideration, Litz said, since neighboring states could possibly be shut down at that time.
“I would hate to throw this money away if there would be out-of-state lockdowns,” Litz said. “Besides, because of COVID, many people aren’t eager to travel.”
Litz asked if it would be possible to wait, to see which way the wind blows, in a manner of speaking, before giving them the grant money.
But, it was noted, for the January event, the business is probably doing their marketing now.
“It’s a growing event and we’ve given them the money before,” said Commissioner Bill Ames. “Nobody can tell what the future holds.”
Litz said the radius was too large (from TV advertising) to draw in people due to the fear of COVID-19, and the money would be wasted while the promoters cast a wider net.
Wolgemuth said he understood her concerns, but suggested that the argument might not be enough to prevent promotional funds to be given to the MotorRama company.
“All the grants you’re awarding have some risk,” Wolgemuth said. “You can’t predict what the outcome will be.”
The request passed, two to one.
In other business, the commissioners approved 25 contracted drivers, plus the Central Medical and First Aid and Safety Patrol ambulance services for the medical assistance transportation program of Community Action Partnership for 2020 and 2021.
The drivers provide transportation services for patients with medical appointments.
Nate McCulloch with Wilson Consulting Group, an engineering firm, presented the list of bids for Phase 9-C of the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail.
Farhat Excavating LLC was the lowest bid and will likely be awarded the bid for the trail portion at $209,770 after it is verified that the contractor can meet all bid guidelines.
The next phase of the rail trail will connect existing segments to the towpath along the Swatara Creek.
“This is an important connector to a much larger area at Swatara State Park,” Wolgemuth said.
The bid request outlined three-tenth of a mile of new multi-use trail construction, including a small amount of trail paving, drainage improvement, and guard rail construction. An “alternate” portion of the bid looks at a proposed pedestrian bridge.
Dennis Firestone, purchasing agent for the county, said original estimates for the project ranged at about $420,000, or $307,000 without the alternate component.
The project is expected to begin by early August and be finished by November.
Retired nurse Diane Ferguson attended the virtual meeting to ask about the possibility of learning contact tracing.
Wolgemuth said counties without their own health department, which includes Lebanon County, won’t be hiring their own tracers and will instead be served by the Pa. Department of Health (DOH).
Bob Dowd, the county’s EMA director, verified that DOH is handling contractors for contact tracing at the state level.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. Ames Home Services is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.
This article was updated to clarify that the county has only applied for the funds, and has not received them as of yet. Additionally, the geography of the rail trail extension was clarified.
This article was also updated to clarify that the lowest bid has only been tentatively approved, with awarding of the bid to occur at a future date after the contractor’s ability to fulfill bid guidelines is verified by county officials.