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Longboat Key Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 1 year ago

Town's COVID expenses reimbursable

Staff installed plexiglass inside Town Hall to separate commissioners, a touch-less temperature scanner and hand sanitizer machines.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town has spent approximately $111,124 on COVID-19-related matters eligible for reimbursement under the CARES Act as of Nov. 13.

“In this particular case with CARES Act for COVID, we know that we have a funding source there for qualified expenses, so we’ll be submitting for reimbursement,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said. “But, for the initial expenses, we charge it to emergency management.”

The spent $72,948.58 through the end of August. Town Finance Director Susan Smith said this portion was split by 33.62% or $24,525.31 and submitted to Manatee County. The town is awaiting an interlocal agreement to submit the remainder to Sarasota County.

More will be submitted to both counties for the expenses beyond August.

“Everything submitted is subject to approval by both the County and State level,'' Smith said. "Our last resort will be FEMA after all CARES Act funding has been utilized.”

With the Longboat Key Town Commission resuming in-person meetings in November, the town plans to use a hybrid system for at least the remainder of the year. It means four of the seven commissioners need to be physically present inside the chambers at Town Hall with the others participating using Zoom.

Harmer said the town has also utilized Zoom for advisory boards and department meetings.

The town has limited in-person capacity inside the chambers of Town Hall. Face masks are required.

Anyone attending the meetings must wear a mask, answer a series of questions and undergo a temperature scan. The town has also limited the number of people who can attend meetings and spaced out chairs.

Town commissioners must undergo the same process with the only exception being that they can take off their masks while seated during the meetings because of the physical separation provided by transparent barriers. 

Earlier this month, the Sarasota City Commission implemented rapid COVID-19 testing for commissioners with the resumption of its in-person meetings.

Harmer said the town has had conversations with the Florida Department of Health on rapid testing. He said the test kits aren’t always accurate.

Harmer said the city of Sarasota has also hired a private contractor to test their commissioners.

“We’re getting more information about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it to see if there’s any benefit to consider that,” Harmer said.

Harmer said he did envision the town keeping some of the practices utilized during the pandemic once things get back to normal.

“We're still learning as we go, but in our Planning and Zoning and Building department, the way we've been dropping off and picking up permits, the way they've been transitioning during this timeframe to some video inspections and other electronic submittals and responses, I think we'll just continue to build upon that,” Harmer said. “It makes us more efficient.”

Harmer said he thinks the town of Longboat Key has responded well so far to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m nervous about season and our visitors and our seasonal residents coming here. And, making sure that we all continue to do what we’ve been doing, and that’s why we’ve been so fortunate because as I travel in the area in both counties on the weekend or in the evening, I see a lot of people out there without masks and not necessarily social distancing,” Harmer said. “A lot of us have COVID-19 fatigue and we’re ready to move on, but we’re seeing a spike in the numbers over the past couple weeks.

“And, there’s a potential for that to continue, especially with the number of visitors to our area and seasonal residents to our area. So I think we have to be especially vigilant as we move into season to protect the community.”

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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