With the goal of ensuring that no money from its $12.8 million CARES Act funding be “left on the table,” Lebanon County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to spend the remaining balance of just over $600,000.
The vote means more businesses that applied for funding in the first two rounds will now receive financial assistance. The vote also includes several local nonprofit organizations as part of the approved $600,268 expenditure.
The county’s CARES Grant Committee, which consists of county and local economic development officials, agreed to lower the established rating score used in the first two rounds to determine which businesses will get funds. The score was lowered from 45 to 38 for businesses who met the funding criteria, which was still consistent for the funding requirements during the first two rounds.
An additional 16 businesses will get a total of $243,000, or 40.5 percent of the remaining funds, under the revised scoring system.
These businesses will get compensated at 77 percent of their requested funding, which is consistent with what other businesses received in the second round. The 77-percent rate was established during the second round so the county could assist more businesses at a lower percentage rate than fewer businesses at a higher one.
Other organizations receiving significant portions of the remaining CARES funding include:
$75,000 to the Lebanon Valley Exposition (EXPO) Center and Fairgrounds and an additional $19,000 to the Lebanon Area Fair for losses incurred due to cancellation of the fair and multiple events scheduled at the EXPO Center because of the coronavirus pandemic.
$50,000 to the YMCA for significant losses for a downturn in its pre-K childcare services during the pandemic. The Lebanon YMCA is the biggest provider in the county for childcare services, especially for children who are not yet in school.
$31,000 for local mental health and substance abuse providers.
Another $150,000 will be spent for the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) for emergency management services personnel, according to Jaime Wolgemuth, chief clerk/county administrator, since no one knows how long the use of PPE will be required.
In a related matter to CARES Act funding, the commissioners, by a 2-1 vote, agreed to disburse $822,380.31 for Mask Up campaign expenditures. Commissioner Bill Ames, in keeping with past votes, voted against paying these bills because of his opposition to the state mandate for an awareness campaign as a condition for the county to receive its federal CARES dollars.
In mentioning that all of the money must be allocated and spent by Dec. 30, Wolgemuth reminded the commissioners that the county has disbursed $9.1 million in grants to Lebanon County businesses in just over 3.5 months.
“I believe this is a tremendous accomplishment considering the little time that we had to do this,” Wolgemuth said. “The complexity of delivering all of those grants in the neighborhood of over 600 that have gone out [to local businesses].”
Wolgemuth has previously praised county staff and other volunteers for expediently disbursing the delayed funds after the county filed a lawsuit in late July against the Wolf administration for withholding the county’s portion of CARES dollars.
County and state officials reached an agreement in mid-August, which included the Mask Up campaign initiative, and money began to flow to Lebanon County shortly thereafter.
“Other counties got a jump start on us and their funding came in July while ours came later in August,” Wolgemuth said. “So we got out of the starting block, so to speak, late. But DCED (Department of Community and Economic Development) has been very complimentary. They believe we’ve done a very nice job.”
Wolgemuth added that other counties found “pet projects” to spend their CARES dollars while Lebanon County, by comparison, utilized its money for its intended purpose: to help a community in crisis, a fact that has pleased state officials.
In another matter related to the CARES Act funding, the commissioners received an update from Fresh Creative, the Lebanon-based agency that administered the $2.8 million Mask Up campaign.
Dinny Kinloch, President, Fresh Creative, said the campaign involved 12 area partners, including businesses and nonprofits in print, broadcast media production, animation marketing, economic development, and health care. The campaign also included local influencers from the Latino community for their input for outreach to that demographic, Kinloch added.
After the agency completed a branding guide, it focused on creating a website, which received over 15,000 visits and had an average time on site of 2.5 minutes, according to Kinloch. Most importantly, he said that most of the time on the site was spent on the educational pages.
Kinloch said the agency distributed over 1,200 signs to area businesses and other organizations who requested signs, and sent to 55,000 county households direct mail marketing materials under the campaign.
Concerning social media, the campaign had nearly 31,000 engagements, which Kinloch said are “pretty decent numbers.”
The campaign, which includes broadcast media, digital (internet-based) sites and outdoor billboards, reached 6.92 million via broadcast, 2.16 million impressions on digital services and 11.4 million via outdoor methods. Kinloch noted the outdoor figures can be skewed since not everyone in a vehicle may necessarily read a roadside billboard when passing by.
The final outreach for the campaign included the distribution of free giveaways at noon on Fridays at the Lebanon Market, which Kinloch noted became quite popular with local residents.
Following the presentation, Wolgemuth said about $30 remains from the $2.8 million that was earmarked for the awareness campaign.
Despite his well-publicized opposition to the mandated campaign, Ames said the goal of including area businesses was one achieved from the “get-go.”
“You were certainly agile and I have the greatest respect for you and your organization,” Ames said, “and my no votes in paying these bills obviously should not cast any shadows on the job that you have done.”
Commissioner Chairman Robert Phillips noted that the Fresh Creative team really delivered in a short time frame and made the county look good in the process while Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz added that Lebanon County’s campaign was so successful it was copied by other counties.
These counties, she said, decided to spend a portion of their CARES Act funding on their own marketing campaigns after witnessing the success of Lebanon County’s program.
At the start of the meeting, the commissioners entertained a request from Bill Dougherty, a member of the Lebanon County Republican Committee, to receive results from pre-election testing of voting machines on Oct. 17 for the Presidential portion of the General Election.
Dougherty told the commissioners that while he received two PDF files listing the results of the accuracy testing of the voting machines, that the results for the scanning of sample ballots did not include the Presidential race numbers.
Dougherty requested a post-election logic and accuracy test on the voting machines — after he also noted that there were no issues with the election in Lebanon County.
Election Committee chairman Ames and Phillips, both of whom are Republican, said they’d have to speak first with Michael Anderson, director and chief clerk for the Lebanon County Bureau of Elections and Voter Registration, before making a commitment. Ames also noted that Philips, who was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, may already have those results and didn’t share them.
Litz, who is the lone Democrat on the commission, agreed with Ames and Phillips and asked who would be responsible for picking up the cost for re-running the test.
Dougherty responded by asking what is the cost, what is the impact of running a test and added that this is “a request of a citizen of Lebanon County.” Dougherty said he’s “worried that the results may not match, may exclude information and that it’s critical to show the transparency for the reasons why the test was run.”
In other county business, the commissioners:
- Approved the Title XIX Amendment Medicaid Grant agreement so the Area Agency on Aging can receive a grant totaling just over $44,000.
- Awarded a citation honoring Dennis Firestone, who will retire after 20 years of service to Lebanon County, including the past 12 as the county’s purchasing agent.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. 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.