(TNS) - The Butler County commissioners are planning to find or possibly build a location to stockpile personal protective equipment and other supplies to weather the coronavirus pandemic long-term.
Commissioner Don Dixon said during a budget hearing with the county’s maintenance department they need to consider building, renting or retrofitting an existing county building, so they can stockpile “thousands, hundreds of thousands of masks” and other supplies to prepare for emergencies.
“I think if this did anything it gave everybody a wake up call. My philosophy is we take care of ourselves first, I don’t want to have to wait,” Dixon said. “I’ve been told too many times for the last six months that it’s on its way, expected anytime. That’s not us, it’s the people we were depending on and I don’t think that’s acceptable.”
Dixon told the Journal-News he is not suggesting spending $500,000 to build a new building, but rather look at buildings the county already owns.
“We need to have something on more than just a temporary basis because you never know what’s going to happen, you don’t know when this is going to be over or what you’re going to need, but you ought always have a little,” he said. “Instead of waiting on somebody out of state shipping it to you, we should be able to put our hands on it.”
At the end of March West Chester Twp. ordered 1,500 face masks and 50 thermometers that cost $17,500, through the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce from Shanghai. The Butler County Sheriff’s Office bought 5,000.
At the time Township Administrator Larry Burks said they had no other options.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to shop around,” Burks said in March. “There are some probably cheaper masks but you couldn’t find them, you can’t buy them, they’re just not available. We thought the price was fair considering the market at the time.”
The county has received $18.7 million in federal coronavirus relief money and some of that can be used on facilities and supplies. Early on in the crisis the county spent about $70,000 on PPE and other equipment like plexiglass shields and other items like sanitizers to ensure county buildings were safe.
When the final allotment of $13.8 million came in County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News she has identified approximately $6.5 million worth of eligible expenses that have either already been made or will be proposed to the commissioners for approval.
Rick Couch, who handles maintenance for the county said he currently has about 6,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and 15,000 masks — 50 of them are N95 professional grade — on hand now and he stores them in the sally port of the Government Services Center.
Butler County Emergency Management has distributed about two million masks countywide throughout the pandemic, according to Deputy Director Jim Bolen. For security reasons he didn’t want to reveal where their supplies are stored, but the county has used the fairgrounds during the pandemic for this purpose.
They receive their PPE directly from places like the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio Department of Health but he has heard from local jurisdictions that supplies are easier to get.
“We are beginning to see it become more readily available on the open market,” Bolen said. “Some items it is still difficult to find them. I know first responders gloves have been an issue, they’ve had trouble finding those. N-95 masks and surgical masks has stabilized at least here locally.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told the Journal-News she supports Dixon’s idea.
“It isn’t logical that the fair has to be responsible for storing all of the emergency supplies in the county fair buildings,” Carpenter said. “We appreciate it, but we probably need to look at some comprehensive planning on that.”
Commissioner T.C. Rogers was non-committal on the idea of a dedicated building. He said in their discussions they need to be careful not to overstep their authority if a countywide operation is what is being considered.
“We naturally have responsibilities, but how much of the operational decisions do we take," Rogers said. “Knowing the townships and cities like I do, some would say okay we need you to do it for us, then there’s others that would regard that as taking over their turf. Those are discussions that have to be part of a larger subject on cooperation and synergies.”
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