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County approves $28 million for Cares Campus construction, operations

By Bob Conrad

County commissioners today approved $40 million in federal funds to pay for a laundry list of projects including $26 million in improvements and construction to the Nevada Cares Campus.  

The money comes from federal coronavirus funds granted to the county. Funds will be used to pay for the Cares Campus construction, improvements to the Our Place women and children’s shelter, new sheriff deputies, court upgrades and remodels and health district technology improvements.

“We’re spending money like drunken sailors,” Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said before voting to approve the spending. “There are some very critical needs here, no question of that. This is frightening for me–again, I’m thankful because there are some real needs on here that we are not able to address in other ways, but it scares me.”

County staff said the money needs to be allocated by December  2024 and they must be spent by December  2026. Positions created by the funds will exist for only two years, or the county will have to find funds to pay for positions to continue past 24 months.

“The proposed projects fall within the American Rescue Plan Act (and the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund) eligible uses, include a proposed implementation process, and come with extensive compliance and reporting requirements,” county staff said. 

Other commissioners said they were nervous about the amount of money but said the projects and personnel were also desperately needed.

Maskless commissioners told masks still required 

Washoe County Commission Chair Bob Lucey goes maskless at the Dec. 14, 2021 meeting.
Washoe County Commission Chair Bob Lucey goes maskless at the Dec. 14, 2021 meeting.

Commissioners Jeanne Herman and Bob Lucey, along with numerous public commenters, were not wearing masks during today’s meeting even though masks are required in public buildings. 

But Assistant County Manager Dave Solaro gave a COVID-19 update saying masks were still required indoors in public buildings.

“In areas of substantial or high transmission, which Washoe County is above the high transmission, masks [have to] be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status,” Solaro said. 

For a county to no longer be held to the governor’s mask mandate, which is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers, COVID-19 transmission has to be below a certain number of cases for two weeks before the mandate will be lifted.

“I think it should be the decision of the individual,” Lucey said in reference to wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. “We can’t turn around tests in a timely manner. [Gov. Sisolak’s] mask mandate is his mask mandate, but I choose not to follow that and I won’t because I don’t feel that it’s truly addressing the needs of me or my family.”

Herman agreed.

A county spokesperson said hired security is not enforcing masks at the county commission chambers.

Commissioners also voted to end the county’s declaration of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic, which the county instituted in March of 2020. The declaration allowed the county to purchase equipment and supplies for the pandemic and funding for treatment space in hospitals. 

Rescinding the declaration doesn’t negate Sisolak’s mandates.

Other commission business

Provided by Washoe County staff and edited by This Is Reno.

Public records fees

During the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Oct. 12, 2021, a schedule of fees for public-records requests was discussed, and staff was directed to conduct more research specific to the actual cost of fulfilling these requests. Today’s presentation to the board  described the cost of staff time and resources assigned to fulfill public-record requests, as well as exemptions for fees. The previous proposal defined “actual cost” staff time as anything over two hours to fulfill a request, to be charged at the rate of the position assigned to fulfill it.  

Today’s proposal provides a standing fee waiver for up to 10 hours of staff time, which brings it in line with some other government entities in Nevada. The proposal also sets a flat hourly rate for staff time, waiving any actual costs for hourly rates above the flat rate. The resolution only applies to county departments not under the leadership of elected officials. 

County manager gets positive review, raise

Washoe County Manager Eric Brown

Commissioners discussed the performance evaluation of County Manager Eric Brown, unanimously agreeing to increase his salary 10% and offer a 5% bonus. Chair Lucey noted that his entrance salary was on the low end because, while he had vast executive experience, he lacked experience in municipal government. Brown’s contract was also extended a year, to end in November 2024.  

“I consider this a calling,” Brown said. “This has been a collection of my life’s experiences and education in technology, customer service, marketing, healthcare, and public health, that has led me to this place. I look forward to continuing to serve you and the communities that you serve.” 

Lease approved for Our Story Inc. to use county property 

Our Story Inc. is a local nonprofit dedicated to collecting and displaying the history, heritage, culture and achievements of underserved communities in northern Nevada. Through a five-year lease agreement approved today by the Board of County Commissioners, Our Story Inc. will use the garage structure at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Reno for a museum exhibit depicting the efforts of the Black Springs Volunteer Fire Department. 

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