The 2019-20 fiscal year budgets for Imperial County and Imperial Irrigation District have been and are continuing to take big hits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the county and IID are reporting they have incurred at least $1.5 million in new costs for services directly related to COVID-19.

At Tuesday’s IID board meeting, Human Resources Manager Dan DeVoy asked the directors to approve a budget adjustment of more than $113,000 to pay the Securitas security firm for conducting temperature checks for any person who arrived at one of the IID offices.

When asked by directors where the adjustment would be coming from DeVoy said he was not sure.

IID Public Information Officer Robert Schettler on Friday said the adjustment is coming out of the support services budget, not the energy or water budget, as the temperature checks are being done for all of IID and not just the HR department.

He said some of the cuts in the support service budget are travel and training, which now will be diverted to pay for the temperature checks.

“At this time, while the IID board is keenly aware of the situation, there have been no items brought before it for action,” Schettler said. “However, as costs continue to increase, it becomes more likely that the board may have to take action.”

The county, on the other hand, only pays for the thermometers in its temperature checks, as departments have been trained on the use of the equipment and on the protocol to screen employees and visitors as they enter the buildings, County Public Information Officer Linsey Dale said.

“Each day, there is a schedule of employees assigned to a time to take temperatures,” she said.

Nevertheless, there have been many expenses necessary to assist with the county’s response to COVID-19. Dale said that before reimbursements, if any, the county’s budget would be impacted by $1.5 million.

“Some of which, but are not limited to, additional cleaning supplies and equipment to clean work spaces for employees and access points for the public, personal protection equipment for employees (and) motel vouchers for our homeless population,” she said.

The most expensive COVID-related item the county has purchased that would not normally not be needed has been personal protective equipment for staff.

The county has spent approximately $212,000 for PPE thus far.  Other large expenses has been $114,775 for the Public Health Department lab expenses and $41,222 to disinfect and sanitize county facilities.

Additional expenses also include increased demand for meal delivery and other services through the Area Agency on Aging senior nutrition program.

Dale also said more funds are likewise needed for additional testing and lab costs for the Imperial County Public Health Department, educational materials for the public, additional working hours for essential employees assigned to COVID-19 response, and much, much more.

As of May 20, IID has incurred about $1.57 million in COVID-19-related costs, but that number does not include the full cost of sequestering teams of essential employees on the worksite nor does it include the negative $8.3 million impact of customers being past due on their water and power bills.

Currently, these expenses are being covered from the district’s Support Services budget. There have been no transfers of reserves.

New labor and materials make up the bulk of the new costs the district has incurred. About $93,000 has been spent on supplies such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and spray disinfectant.

The tally for the first three weeks of the district’s sequestering program is around $290,000.

To date, IID spent a total of $290,000 for its three-week sequestration for employees working in the energy and water command stations, but that cost will increase as the program continues.

 The district has seen a large spike in customers enrolling in IID’s low-income payment assistance programs. Should this trend continue, the budgeted 2020 funds will not sustain the programs and will likely require augmentation of funds, Schettler said.

The IID board and the Board of Supervisors both took decisive action to proclaim an emergency. That opened the door for them to pursue reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California Office of Emergency Services.

“We do not know how much eligible funding IID will receive once the pandemic is over,” Schettler said. “We do hope for some degree of reimbursement, but it is unclear at this time what that could be.”

Schettler said the IID encourages customers to continue paying their bills as much as they can so that the district can continue to maintain sufficient financial stability and provide services.

A big impact and probably the biggest budget impact to IID is customers not paying bills, he said.

“We understand the COVID-19 pandemic is creating financial hardship for many, but IID is here to help,” Schettler said. Customers experiencing hardship should contact IID’s customer service staff to arrange a flexible payment plan and ask about IID's other assistance programs, he added.

Staff Writer Michael Maresh can be reached at mmaresh@ivpressonline.com.

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