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County finalizes new virus testing locations
The Hays County Commissioners Court approved two lease agreements for a COVID-19 testing center and eventual vaccination site, as well as a related call center.
The properties, located at 1224 and 1236 North State Highway 123 in San Marcos will be leased at $6,000 per month.
Additional agreements have been approved with CommuniCare to provide public testing Wednesday afternoons at their Wimberley location in a drive through capacity and Sunday afternoons at their Kyle location inside the clinic.
These sites are expected to open mid-August and will offer free testing with no symptoms required, but will require an appointment to ensure labs do not get backlogged again.
County emergency management staff is still working to arrange a site in Dripping Springs and is collaborating with Texas State University to provide testing in their clinic.
There is continued available testing throughout the county at Premier ER & Urgent Care, at Live Oak Health Partners for the uninsured and underinsured, at Baylor Scott and White in Buda and at various private medical clinics.
The county has capacity for testing for the next months through CPL Labs and is continuing to explore other lab partners.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra recently visited the regional field hospital at the Austin Convention Center that is available to Hays County in addition to the 10 county members of the Capital Area Council of Governments.
The field hospital is intended for less critical COVID-19 patients that have been hospitalized, allowing for the more critical patients to be kept in other hospitals with stronger provider to patient ratios.
“We have never been in jeopardy of running out of (hospital) bed space,” Becerra said. “The lion’s share of the community has taken the direction from medical professionals seriously enough to take precautions that have helped us. We are grateful to them and their efforts. We aren’t out of the woods, but keep up the good work. Hopefully we don't need it (field hospital beds), but I do see us spilling into it in the next few weeks.”
Emergency Management Coordinator Alex Villalobos confirmed there is a large inventory of personal protective equipment available to the county at this point.
COVID-19 continues to have a presence in the Hays County Jail, with 62 positive cases as of July 27, excluding employees.
In other business, initial notes on the judge’s FY2021 budget included $785,000 to the district attorney’s office, $250,000 for magistration, $1.8 million for staffing the sheriff's office, $500,000 in medical contracts with Wellpath, $80,000 for water line improvements for the jail, $90,000 for software and hardware programs, $1.5 million salary market increase for law enforcement and $687,000 for a cost of living increase for the county’s 1,000 employees.
Becerra recommended to drop the tax rate from 0.4282 to 0.4187, which will result in minor tax increases for homes whose values increased this year. For the average home which was appraised at $262,755 in 2020 that increased to $275,000 in 2021, there would be an increase tax bill of $37 per year.
“The spirit of this budget is exclusively to be cognizant of the current state of the county, in reference to the community, how many are unemployed, businesses that are closing or struggling, in addressing that very fight and push,” Becerra said. “We want to make sure no department feels singled out. My hope in supporting the effort of this is to be consistent, be even handed, and be the best fiscal steward I could be.”
The budget workshop dates are set for Aug. 11 at 10 a.m., Aug. 18 at 10 a.m. and Aug. 25 at 1 p.m.
In other business, there was an amendment for a grant extension for the Mental Health Crisis Intervention project that will convert the funding originally intended to be used for a consultant to be used for a certified mental health professional position for the sheriff’s office in order to effectively assess and treat those who are in crisis.
The sheriff’s office’s mental health specialist assists patrols when they get calls for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, in evaluating how to best help the individual. They train officers to identify signs of a mental health crisis on calls and do everything they can to keep someone in a stable environment instead of jail or the emergency room, sometimes directly referring individuals to mental health facilities if necessary.
The Emergency Cash Assistance Program (ECAP) for small businesses has finalized the award committee and will meet for the first time Wednesday. The Greater San Marcos Partnership has indicated they will handle all advertising for the program which is set to go live on Aug. 1. They voted to expedite the payment process for grant awards to get relief to eligible businesses as soon as possible.
The commissioners also approved a grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services for the $103,777 and will use it to bring on another epidemiologist for the COVID-19 response effort.
The county pulled an item that was intended to approve the purchase of new furniture for the new Public Safety Building so that the costs and vendors can be reviewed further.
In the executive session, the commissioners decided to delay appointing any new positions within Hays County Constable, Precinct 3’s office until after Aug. 11. The county has not yet received Constable Ray Helm’s resignation notice in writing, although he has verbally indicated his intention to resign effective July 31 amidst “several investigations” from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.