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The Cole County Commission on Tuesday approved using federal COVID-19 relief funds to upgrade the county's mobile emergency operations center.

The contract with Pitt Technology Group, of Springfield, is for $204,056.

During early meetings at the EOC when the pandemic began this past spring, it became apparent upgrades were needed to internet and remote or distance meeting capabilities, Sheriff John Wheeler told commissioners.

The commission also plans to use $75,154 in CARES Act funds for an upgrade of the 911 mapping system by Solacom Technologies Inc., of Canada, which Wheeler said will allow them to see from where calls are coming.

With the $279,210 in purchases approved Tuesday, Cole County has $159,006 in CARES Act funds remaining of the $9,003,720 it received in May.

Commissioners and Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell had talked earlier about trying to pay some Health Department staff for on-call hours incurred during the pandemic. Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said he wanted them to be paid for taking time when they would normally be off in the evenings or on weekends to answer phones and make sure information was updated.

However, Western District Commissioner Harry Otto and County Attorney Jill LaHue said the county can't do this under the state Constitution.

The Missouri General Assembly cannot authorize a county or municipal authority to grant any extra compensation, fee or allowance to a public officer after service has been rendered or a contract has been entered into and performed, Lahue noted.

That means the county can't fix the problem retroactively, Otto said.

Campbell said they are working on a policy for the county Health Department that would address the issue of on-call hours in the future.

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The commission approved the Health Department to hire three part-time staff to help during the upcoming vaccination process. These employees would work 20 hours a week for $18 per hour with no benefits. The money to fund these employees will come from $646,000 in CARES Act funds that the commission approved last month.

"We only have seven nurses, and they can't do the scheduling and give the shots and everything else," Campbell said.

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