As Grayson County continues to watch area businesses and governmental functions open back up from the COVID-19 shutdown, county leaders are also watching the costs of the pandemic increase.
Early on, Grayson County Office of Emergency Management Director Sarah Somers and others started tracking the cost to the county and to the area’s cities and towns. While Commissioner Jeff Whitmire theorized that the county could lose as much as $1.7 million in revenue from the shut down, the costs of opening back up again were only recently revealed.
Grayson County Judge Bill Magers told commissioners this week that there will be capital expenditures for things like adding Plexiglas to courtrooms and other offices. Those expenses might not fit into any mode of recovery of funds for the county. Courtrooms across the state are slated to re open for live hearings on June 1. But to get ready for that, the Office of Court Administration ruled that people’s temperatures must be checked when they enter the buildings where those courts are housed. In Grayson County, that will be the Grayson County Justice Center where the county’s two courts-at-law and three district courts are housed. In addition, Magers said, the OCA has determined that people must wear face coverings while they are in the Justice Center.
The county will have to provide those supplies because, for many people, going to the Justice Center is not a matter of personal choice. They are summoned there either as grand jurors, jurors, witnesses or participants in some sort of matter happening before the courts.
Magers said before COVID-19, about 600 people each week day entered the Grayson County Justice Center. He said there is no way really to tell if that was 600 individual people or if it was 300 people who entered in the morning and then came back in at lunch, but it was 600 entrants a day.
“Two hundred and fifty work days a year,” he said times those 600 people times $2 per mask, and the county could easily be looking at $600,000 a year for masks alone. And no one knows how long this will continue.
He said in addition to that the county has had other expenses. Those include gloves, hand sanitizer, and other items that come to about $50,000 a month so far.
Somers said the county can pre-order some of those supplies right now to take advantage of some funds they have for reimbursement, but Magers stressed that the costs of those ongoing supplies to keep people safe from the virus could go well over $1.2 million.
He reminded commissioners that in a previous meeting they had heard that the county would be getting around $2.2 million for COVID-19 relief.
Somers advised commissioners early on that the county isn’t likely to see buckets of money to help refill the county coffers. She said any money the county, and the area’s cities and smaller towns is likely to see, will come in the form of reimbursements for money that the entities have already spent on the pandemic.
Whitmire said some of the lost income from things like delayed car registration renewals and taxes, might be made up in this budget cycle, but other things new car registration fees might not be made up this year.
He said there is no way to know, right now, what kind of economic recovery the area could see once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
County leaders have said that they are trying hard to track the money going out and coming in so that they are not stuck making really hard decisions at the end of the fiscal year in September. The hope, Whitmire said, is to keep as much of the burden off of the tax payer at a local level as possible. In recent years, the commissioners have cut the local property tax rate as new property continued to grow with the business and population explosion from the south. After being held stead at .4090 per $100 valuation, the court dropped the tax rate in 2017, 2018 and 2019 ending up at .4164 per $100 valuation.
Generally, the county budget is based on about a $1 million shortfall, but by the time the new property is added to the tax rolls, the county generally comes out about $500,000 ahead.
That might not happen this year.