Drive-thru clinics take toll on Butler County Fairgrounds

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The Butler County commissioners have been asked to fund about $2.13 million for the emergency staging areas and vaccination clinics set up at the county fairgrounds, and the funding vehicle is currently up for debate.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency and three health departments have been using the Butler County Fairgrounds in Hamilton to host drive-thru and COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinic. It has also served as a distribution site for all kinds of personal protection equipment.

The commissioners have received two proposals regarding the Butler County Fairgrounds. The EMA asked the commissioners for $2 million in special federal Community Development Block Grant dollars targeted for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic to fix damage done by heavy traffic on roads designed primarily for pedestrians, and to create more paved parking areas for long-term use of the grounds as a staging area in future emergency situations.

“CARES money will pay for paving,” Commissioner Don Dixon asked on Monday. “$2 million is a pretty hefty amount for paving.”

The project was initially approved for the CDBG-CV funds but the commissioners last week approved $923,509 of the $1.8 million in federal money for a dozen projects, the fairgrounds pavement repair wasn’t one of them. They haven’t decided how to spend the rest of the money.

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said they need to get the job done.

“We sat for a very long time on our CARES funds while vaccination clinics and testing occurred, in spite of not having that funding come through from the commissioners,” Carpenter said. “So the fair board in just good citizenship, kindness of their hearts said ‘you can use this, we don’t expect anything from you.’ Then thousands and tens of thousands of people have come through and are tearing up the pavement.”

She said the cost might only be around $1.2 million.

The commissioners have also received a $134,000 request for funding the first six months of the vaccination clinics this year to pay for PPE, test kits and operations.

EMA Director Matt Haverkos said the paving isn’t just about the past but the future. He said it has been designated as the point of distribution site federally and “we utilize that site on a regular basis obviously with COVID.”

“We basically used every paved surface of that fairgrounds over the course of the year-and-a-half operations, some of them were heavily damaged from semi traffic, forklifts, skids, snow plows and just heavy traffic. And others like gravel lots we want to have as improved surfaces to use in the future,” Haverkos said.

“It’s not just repairing the damage at intersections and some of the stuff big trucks did, but also making a consistent improved surface so we can operate there 365 in the future. That may be for COVID vaccines that may be needed for a future disaster, that may involve giving out water, supplies, information to the community, medications in the event of other emergencies.”

Haverkos has also asked for $900,000 to build a permanent structure on the fairgrounds so they can vacate the fair board building they’ve been utilizing. That project is on the commissioners’ list of projects for American Rescue Plan Act funding.

He said the second half costs for the vaccination clinics could be higher if the commissioners approve a permanent structure. Dixon at the start of the pandemic said he wanted a place to “stockpile” supplies like PPE for emergencies. He told the Journal-News the fairgrounds is not a good location for that because it has accessibility and other issues.

The county received several buckets of major money from the federal government throughout the pandemic. The first wave came in the form of $18.7 million in CARES funding, a revenue source with tight deadlines and ever-changing rules.

A large chunk was forwarded to the general fund to cover salaries for first responders whose time was “substantially dedicated” to dealing with the pandemic because of the Dec. 30, 2020 deadline. The commissioners earmarked $6 million of that money for vaccines and testing.

The commissioners also have nearly $75 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds still to distribute. They have received funding requests from outside entities totaling about $143 million.

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners she planned to use ARPA funds to cover the $134,000 vaccination clinic request. Carpenter objected to that suggestion. She told the Journal-News they should pay for the clinics and the paving out of the general fund, because much of the CARES funding was put there.

“If you put it in perspective $18.7 million came to the county through CARES funding for remediating the COVID pandemic. Of that $2.5 million was spent for that purpose, the other funds were spent for remediating county government exposure and then the remaining into the general fund,” Carpenter said. “The rest of it went to county government, we should not have made a penny on the pandemic.”

Dixon said he needs to take another look at the paving project and that since vaccinations and test kits are widely available now he doesn’t they will need to stage mass clinics in the future. He said they will fund whatever is warranted as far as vaccines go.

“We’ve got money put back to take care of whatever circumstances come up, we’ve got money to do it, that’s part of the plan,” Dixon said. “I don’t have any problem taking that out of the general fund, zero, as long it’s spent in a way you can benchmark it, you can track it, you know how many people got the shot and where and when, where all the money went. You’re not just throw a big hunk of money out there.”

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