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Is it the county’s job to provide masks to the public?

Someone will have to pay for it.

Monday, the Warren County Board of Supervisors gave the authority to Warren County purchasing agent Tonga Vinson to move ahead with purchasing 10,000 disposable masks that will be made available to the public. Through her research, Vinson was able to find a vendor selling the masks for approximately 85 cents each.

That’s a good price, but someone will have to pay for it.

Originally, supervisors had batted around the idea to purchase as many as 50,000 masks in order to make them available to every single one of the county’s more than 40,000 residents. At the price Vinson had been able to find, that would have cost more than $42,000.

Thankfully, that plan — outrageous by its scale, cost and lack of need — was whittled down to just 10,000 masks that will be distributed through the Warren County Emergency Management Agency, which has the experience and programs in place to make such a plan work. The masks would be made available for people visiting the county’s public buildings, primarily the county courthouse.

During their discussion Monday, it was mentioned that the now estimated $8,500 to be spent on the masks would be reimbursable through state or federal emergency management agencies since they are part of the county’s response to the COVID-19 virus.

Still, someone will have to pay for it.

In his presentation to the supervisors, Warren County Emergency Management Agency Director John Elfer said he would make whatever plan the supervisors adopted work. He also said his office, through its network of programs, agencies and partnerships, has already been able to provide masks to frontline medical workers and first responders, and has helped coordinate the delivery of masks to private citizens.

Through partnerships with the United Way of West Central Mississippi and a volunteer organization manufacturing fabric masks, Masks for Mississippi, Elfer’s team has met the public’s need.

So, the question remains — why would supervisors, who have strongly urged residents to wear masks, feel it is their responsibility to make masks available to every citizen when those who have wanted and needed masks have already found outlets for those supplies?

In the grand scheme of things, $8,500 is not a lot of money when you are speaking of the county’s budget and what they are having to forecast spending on the repairs to county roads damaged in February. They have massive spending priorities ahead of them, with the need to purchase masks for the public not among them.

We truly appreciate and commend the supervisors for their heart, but this is one precaution, one moment where the public should and has taken care of themselves, by themselves.

And, if supervisors continue to move ahead with this plan, we would hope that all of the 10,000 masks be given to the Warren County Emergency Management Agency to be allocated, and not done so through the whim or wishes of any county personnel, supervisor or department head.

Elfer and his team have proven they have the experience and track record to manage these supplies. While we disagree with the premise, if it is to be done, let the experts do it.

As for the money, it may one day be reimbursed to the county’s coffers by state or federal agencies, but it is still a bill being footed by the taxpayers. We are the ones paying for it.