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Supervisors OK extra funding, equipment related to pandemic

Webster County Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed about $77,000 in funding requests for extra staffing and equipment to help two county departments weather demands for the coming months related to the coronavirus pandemic.

As election season gets well under way, the county auditor’s office received approval to purchase a high-speed letter opener to assist staff processing an unprecedented influx of absentee ballots. For $1,198, the Martin Yale Company machine will be able to help County Auditor Doreen Pliner and her office process up to 17,500 absentee ballots per hour.

If absentee ballots for the entire county came in at once, the machine would be able to open them all in under two hours.

That should be more than enough to assist the office, which Pliner said is processing an average of 300 request forms per day right now. Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, she expects at least half of voters to participate in the November general election by mail.

So far, her office has received about 4,500 absentee ballot requests, with more expected now that official absentee ballot requests have been mailed out to registered voters by the Iowa Secretary of State.

The auditor’s office will have 21 business days to mail out, receive and process the influx of ballots between October 5, when it’s allowed to start mailing ballots, and election day.

Webster County Public Health will also receive a few helping hands to the tune of up to $75,000 after supervisors approved the hire of temporary staff to assist with the pandemic.

Supervisor Mark Campbell said the money from the General Basic Fund, which will be reimbursed by the state of Iowa with federal funding allocated through the CARES Act passed by Congress in March, will go towards one temporary full-time staff member and three or four part-time staffers.

Early on in the pandemic, Campbell said some public health staff members were moved around within the department to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing. With school back in session and flu season coming up, he said the department would like to have them back in their regular positions.

“COVID-19 is not going away any time soon,” he said, wanting to be prepared if a vaccine is delivered in coming months. “The goal is to get public health employees back to their daily duties while getting in front of COVID-19.”

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