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Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson: Pandemic toll straining County finances
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Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson: Pandemic toll straining County finances

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Pima County and are being administered to health-care workers and others identified as the first in line for immunization by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As more vaccines arrive in the weeks to come, we will progress through the priority list and our county public-health leaders expect we should turn the corner on COVID-19 by the summer. A resumption of the lives we prefer to live is in sight.

But it will take time and we must remain vi gilant and responsible over these next few months. COVID-19 continues to exact a terrible toll in Pima County. December has been the worst month of the pandemic by far, with more than 25,000 people contracting the disease and well more than 300 dying from it. January is expected to be as bad or worse.

We must weather these last violent gales of the storm before it subsides. That means we must continue to stay at home as much as we can, wear masks if we do go out and adhere to the county’s curfew and mask-wearing requirements.

The struggles to contain this virus also have exacted a significant financial toll on the county. Under the American system of public health, county health departments are the tip of the spear when fighting against a pandemic. The majority of national public-health policies and programs flow down to county health departments for action.

In April, Pima County received $87 million in CARES Act funds to help pay for the effect of the virus in our community and the cost of the county’s mitigation efforts.

We have used those funds to provide housing, food and utility assistance, and for small business support. The bulk of it, however, has been used to pay for testing, contact tracing, personal protection equipment and added staff and other personnel costs incurred by the county’s pandemic response effort.

All $87 million has been spent. We’ve spent another $15 million more than that, which has come from the General Fund. The health department estimates that continued vigilance against COVID-19 — testing and contact tracing, primarily, and the vaccine distribution program — will require another $55 million by the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

The new COVID relief bill just passed by Congress does not provide direct funding for counties, which means that if another federal bill is not funded before the end of the fiscal year, the estimated $70 million and possibly more spent to try to protect our community from the ravages of this deadly virus will have to come from all of us — county taxpayers.

This is neither right nor fair. I urge all of you to contact your congressional representatives and ask Congress to reimburse the costs counties across the country have had to pay fighting this pandemic.

The new year also brings many new leaders to county government. There will be three new supervisors joining me and Supervisor Steve Christy on the board and a new county sheriff, attorney, assessor and recorder. All of them have many new and smart ideas for county governance.

But I caution them to temper their zeal for new programs and projects for a bit while we struggle through the last days of the pandemic. If the feds or the state don’t help pay for the costs of COVID-19, then local taxpayers will have to, like it or not. We are morally obligated to stay in this fight.

Saving lives and protecting livelihoods come with a heavy price and Pima County must pay the toll.

I wish everyone in Pima County a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year. And when your turn comes up, please get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sharon Bronson represents District 3 on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

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