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$196K OK’d for Blair County courthouse door monitors

System will track courthouse employees

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County will spend almost $196,000 for electronic door monitors inside the courthouse, based on a unanimous vote that commissioners cast Wednesday.

The monitors, capable of tracking employees when they enter their offices and other county offices, will be paid for with a portion of the $11 million federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act grant awarded to the county.

The proposed purchase, being arranged through Empire Communications, 1215 16th St., Altoona, qualifies for funding based on CARES Act requirements, County Administrator/Chief Clerk Nicole Hemminger told commissioners Tuesday.

Under the CARES Act, the county is obligated to allocate and use grant dollars toward COVID-19 expenses or to address COVID-19 conditions.

After Wednesday’s meeting concluded, Hemminger explained that if an employee contracts COVID-19, the system will then put the county in a position of being able to identify the other county offices where the employee has been.

While the system can be purchased with CARES Act funding, Hemminger told commissioners the system’s maintenance, at $16,000 annually, is ineligible for grant funding, so general fund dollars will be needed to cover that expense.

The commissioners’ decision to use CARES Act funding for the door monitoring system is expected to be followed, in forthcoming weeks, with additional decisions on pending CARES grant applications.

About 175 small businesses, tourism and nonprofit agencies, in addition to municipal governments, submitted applications for a portion of the county’s CARES Act allocation.

Grants are to be used to help those entities address expenses and losses attributed to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The applications are still under review by the county’s consultant, Hemminger said Wednesday.

Blair County is depending on Susquehanna Accounting and Consulting Solutions to review grant applications and to work with the law firm of Campbell Durrant to determine if requests comply with state and federal rules.

After the consultants advised against using CARES Act money to pay for intercom systems at two magisterial district courts, commissioners voted 2-to-1 in favor of the purchase, with money in the courts’ budgets. The cost was estimated at $750 each for courts used by Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller of Tyrone and Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner of Hollidaysburg.

Court Administrator Janice Meadows said the need for intercoms surfaced “somewhat in response to COVID” because having intercoms would keep the judge or a staff member from having to enter the waiting area and announce the next hearing.

The intercoms would not be considered an eligible expense with CARES money, Commissioner Amy Webster said, because their use doesn’t create an opportunity for proper social distancing or protection from COVID-19.

Webster, who voted against the purchase of the intercoms, recommended looking for a better alternative. These intercoms, to be integrated into the telephone system, aren’t expected to be loud enough to be heard outside the court building, she said.

Commissioners Bruce Erb and Laura Burke voted in favor of the intercom purchases. Meadows said an intercom is used in the Central Court building and at Magisterial District Judge Ben Jones’ court.

“They have been found to be productive,” Meadows said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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