ELKO – A resolution that establishes a fund to support local businesses fined by state agencies regarding COVID-19 mandates is now accepting private donations.
Elko County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the fund Wednesday, after proposing it in an earlier resolution approved a month ago.
The original resolution announced the County’s support of “the local economy and businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.”
It also stated that the County would consider managing a fund that would take individual donations and use them to financially assist businesses fined by enforcement agencies, such as the Division of Industrial Relations, Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The last Elko County business fined by Nevada OSHA was Owens Market & Ace Hardware in Carlin for $2,603 in November.
In August, two retail stores were penalized by OSHA. AutoZone was fined $9,694, and Russell Cellular was fined $3,470.
State OSHA officials haven’t done any inspections in Elko County over the past six weeks, according to the agency’s dashboard.
Commissioner Rex Steninger and County Manager Amanda Osborne clarified for the record that the County set up the fund to receive only private donations. It would not include any taxpayer monies.
Board chairman Jon Karr noted that two public e-comments received during the commissioners’ meeting were against the fund if it included taxpayer money.
A statement sent to the County on Feb. 2 from Jackpot resident Roberta Lineberry expressed her opposition to the special account. She said she believed “the Commissioners have no place” in the issue, adding that she resented “the thought that all the money and effort [for compliance to the mandates] are being disregarded.”
Lineberry said she “and many other Jackpot residents are extremely upset regarding the idea of fundraising to cover costs of fines to local businesses who do not comply with Gov. Sisolak’s mandates.”
Elko County Republican Party Chairman Lee Hoffman told commissioners he was ready to become the first contributor, pledging $100 after commissioners approved the motion made by Delmo Andreozzi and seconded by Cliff Eklund.
Hoffman said he supported the adoption of the County’s resolution and the fund, noting that OSHA citations were dwindling and “the need for this fund may be less that was perceived even a month ago.”
According to the OSHA Dashboard, Elko County ranks third in overall compliance with 93.2% between June 29 and Jan. 28, behind Storey and Pershing counties, which are 94.3% and 95.7%, respectively.
“Still, having said that,” Hoffman continued, “I think OSHA has been overzealous in many respects.”
Should the donations not be used, the County will track the donors and return the money, said assistant county manager and chief financial officer Cash Minor.
Spring Creek resident Stephanie Licht said the resolution gives “hope” to Elko County residents.
“We would like to see these policies continued, go forward with hope that we can get our country back, one way or another,” she said. “When you lose hope, you lose the ability and the will to stand up and do something.”
One resident questioned if the vaccines would relax some of the mandates. Ryndon resident Charles Schaer told commissioners he had been denied service at a local business for not wearing a mask although he had both vaccines and showed employees his immunization card and driver’s license to prove it.
“It’s quite interesting to have people say, ‘well, I don’t care about that,” or “it’s not good enough,’” he said. “You have the right to do that as a business owner, but the question is: Why are we spending and why are we pushing for [vaccinations] for people just to say ‘it’s not good enough’?”
Karr explained to Schaer the goal of the resolution was to relax restrictions on businesses.
“That’s why we’re asking the governor to rethink [the mandates] because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of science behind it, or even an acknowledgment that if you’ve been vaccinated that you can do things,” Karr said. ‘There doesn’t seem to be any science behind any conclusion.”
A donation-only fund will support businesses hit with fines and penalties from state enforcement agencies.