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Covid Costs

The county is spending millions on everything from testing to hotel rooms for the homeless.

by James Leonard

From the July, 2020 issue

"We've spent well over six million at this point trying to address the Covid-19 crisis," says county board of commissioners chair Jason Morgan. "We're spending money on PPE, on testing and staffing for the testing through the public health department, on overtime for many of our staffers who are working in those areas."

Much of that money comes from last year's surplus--money that normally would go to infrastructure or one-time expenses. This year it's all going to Covid-19 relief.

It's only the start. In May the board passed two additional spending resolutions: one to assist the homeless and those in danger of losing their homes because of the economic collapse, the other for hazard pay for law enforcement officers.

The housing money is "a stopgap" for renters and homeowners, says Ann Arbor commissioner Andy LaBarre. "It basically floats you through a quarter" of a year.

The biggest expense is for rehousing residents of local homeless shelters to curb an outbreak of Covid-19. After a couple of cases were detected, many guests were moved out to hotel rooms--though Morgan won't say which hotel.

"They asked us not to share the name [due to] long-term concerns about their brand," says Morgan. "They've been a great partner." Beyond housing, folks get food and can get mental health and public health services plus access to testing.

The county has already spent $5.8 million on hotel rooms, and the bill could reach $9 million by year's end. "We're going to try and get as much as we can reimbursed from FEMA," Morgan says, "but only 75 percent of that's reimbursable."

The board also voted for hazard pay for sheriff's deputies: a 2 percent increase from March through June. As LaBarre explains it, officers "are being asked to provide public safety and response services in a way where sometimes they can't go back to their homes because they don't want to infect their families."

"We have labor contracts with all of our county employees,"

...continued below...

Morgan continues. Most call for "additional pay for all employees who are working during [a] crisis." Though the clauses are "generally meant for more of like a snow day" than a pandemic, they've provided extra compensation for most affected county employees. "The police officer's union did not have that provision in their contract," Morgan says, but the board figured they still deserved the temporary raise.

After national and local incidents of police violence--in May a deputy was filmed in Ypsilanti Township repeatedly punching a woman in the head after she bit him--and calls to defund police, is this the right message to send?

"I don't think this is related to that," Morgan replies. While he's heard from a lot from folks about the incident, he says there were no calls to defund the sheriff's office--only "very legitimate questions [about] our use-of-force policies."     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2020.]


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