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Vehicles, programs and an air curtain burner top health department's ARPA request

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | November 5, 2021 7:00 AM

Health department officials gave the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners last month a little more than $300,000 wish list for American Rescue Plan Act monies.

The three-page document includes spending for vehicles, data systems, an air curtain burner for the landfill and an anti-bullying campaign, among other items. Left off, but still pressing, was a request for $2.29 million for a soon-to-be necessary expansion of the county landfill. “None of this was really new,” said department Director Kathi Hooper in a nod to recent conversations between her staff and county commissioners. The air curtain burner is the costliest item on the list, coming in at an estimated $135,000. Wood waste received at the Libby landfill currently goes through a chipper.

That’s because the landfill sits in the Libby Air Quality Control District, limiting options to burn the excess material.

An air curtain burner disposes wood waste without affecting air quality and can see use throughout the year. While chipping has worked as a solution, the end product takes up space in the landfill, Hooper said. She pointed out that the county would no longer need to spend money fixing up the chipper.

A proposed mobile resource van clocked in at about $95,000. Hooper foresaw the vehicle allowing department staff to boost its work. “The goal of having this outreach center would be improving our public health program in hard-toreach areas,” Hooper said. “It would be equipped with nursing equipment to administer vaccines for adults and children as well as for other various health programs.”

Hooper said the van could serve double-duty with other county agencies. If the health department held a vaccine clinic in the Yaak, library staff could jump aboard, she said. She also requested funding for one or more vehicles for staff. The department has three vehicles used for inspections, nursing and Zero to Five programs. Two — a 2007 Buick and 2012 Ford Escape — need replacing, she said. Hooper did not offer a cost estimate for the proposal, citing fluctuations in the used car market.

Other items were aimed at improving departmental efficiency. An electronic health record, aimed at aiding with vaccinations, nursing services and public health surveillance, would cost about $20,000.

“Everything we do is paper intensive,” said Jennifer McCully, public health manager for the county. “It’s old school and [results in] too many errors and human errors and loss of revenue.”

A performance management system came in at about $3,000. An online inspection system for licensed establishments, meant to streamline the process for staff and businesses, would cost an estimated $10,000 with a monthly $400 fee. As for public awareness, the department wants between $10,000 and $15,000 for mental health first aid. Under the proposal, the department would send three people to undergo mental health training. Hooper hoped to partner with the area school districts. Were the department to certify an individual to provide mental health first aid training in Lincoln County, the cost would increase about $3,000. Another estimated $15,000 would go toward finding and implementing a community bullying program.

Two other initiatives rounded out the list.

Hooper and McCully requested about $5,000 for an online resource guide.

Area organizations, including the health department, discuss resource guides to no end, the pair said.

Many end up sitting on a shelf somewhere.

“Our dream has always been an app that community, law enforcement, etc. can access when working with their clients,” the document reads.

As an example, McCully said an area law enforcement officer using a website or app could pull it up during a call and find available resources in the area, say for food or vaccinations.

“It’s something all our partners would benefit from,” she told commissioners.

Anther $10,000 would go to a healthy homes program. The initiative would address environmental heath hazards in Lincoln County homes, including radon, asbestos and mold as well as water systems and lead.

Not included in the list of funding requests, but noted in the document: A $2 million grant via the American Rescue Plan Act for the landfill expansion, though they originally sought about $2.9 million.

“I didn’t include it on our top 10 but of course it’s a priority,” she said.

Officials estimate it will cost about $5.79 million to create a new cell for the region’s waste and already have set aside $1.5 million for the project. That leaves about $2.29 million in funding outstanding.

“I’m not asking for it entirely to come from ARPA, but just to make you aware,” Hooper told commissioners. Reviewing the list, County Commissioner Brent Teske (D-1) said he saw a need for most of the requests. “Some of these recommendations are definitely going to alleviate some of these other issues, like the chipping waste,” he said.

“Mental health first aid — that’s huge right now.”

He urged Hooper and McCully to double and triple check that the expenditures fell within the guidelines for ARPA spending.

County commissioners Jerry Bennett (D-2) and Josh Letcher (D-3) echoed Teske. “As people know, if we don’t spend this money properly then we have to pay it back,” Bennett said.

“If we spend it, we don’t have the money to pay it back.”

The health department is funded largely through grants, contracts, landfill fees and the sale of recyclables, among other revenue streams. In the fiscal year ending in 2020, county general funds comprised less than 5 percent of the department’s budget.

Later in October, commissioners set aside $90,000 in federal rescue plan dollars for the mobile resource van. They also approved spending for the interagency resource guide and $3,000 for the performance management system during an Oct. 27 meeting.