Despite quarantine orders — or perhaps because of them — civic engagement has been on the rise in Nevada County since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
Local officials have battled mask unrest on the board of oversight, and the county is paying the price for polarization.
“Unfortunately, the county has received a number of threats which have led to our increased security,” CEO Alison Lehman said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we see this happening all over the country.”
Deputy Director General Martin Polt said government buildings and employees were on high alert, “in general”.
“We have a duty to create a safe working environment where the community can access local government services and participate in government meetings safely and without fear of reprisal,” he said.
Nick Poole, the county’s risk management officer, declined to elaborate on the type of threats employees at the Eric Rood Administration Center have received over the past 24 months, but noted the marked increase in the number of active shooters in all the countries.
The FBI designated 40 shootings in 2020 as active shooter incidents, indicating a 100% increase since 2016. A mass shooting last weekend in Sacramento claimed the lives of six people and injured others.
Poole said the county has held active shooter response trainings and employs private security companies to guard the Rood Center and libraries when needed.
“The number we have at any one time can fluctuate depending on our concerns,” Poole said of the security guards. “I’m not giving out the number. Our concern would be someone who would like to do something.“
Poole, who did not oversee safety in 2019 or 2020, noted that protecting county employees requires cross-departmental collaborations.
According to management analyst Barry Anderson, who works in Lehman’s office, the private security support budget grew by about 10% per year from 2017 to 2020.
Poole said that although risk management has a budget that includes the salaries of two employees, as well as the cost of insurance and workers’ compensation, it does not delineate the amount paid by the county to Universal Protection, LP (now Allied Universal) and Pride Asset Protection Group — two private security companies.
Anderson said Universal Protection provided three security guards at the Rood Center, the county behavioral health office off Crown Point Circle and a county resource center.
The contract was exclusively for health and human services facilities at three facilities, including the Eric Rood Administrative Center, prior to the 2021-22 fiscal year, Anderson said in an email.
Universal Protection, LP billed the county $209,235 in fiscal year 2020-21.
The county then renewed that contract the following year for $46,000 in fiscal year 2021-22. Anderson said the county paid Pride Asset Protection Inc. $230,000 for an additional guard stationed in the Rood Center lobby and a security manager, bringing the total private security costs for the county to $276,000.
Anderson noted a 32% increase in security costs last year between an additional security contract with Pride Asset Protection Inc. and a resolution to convene a “security consultant” and “special events security.”
According to the latest resolutions, the county uses universal coverage “as needed.” Poole said he does not oversee security, but is responsible for assigning independent security contractors when requested.
Poole said the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office provides county building security in that county, where he last worked, and was unsure why Nevada County was contracting out his security work.
“While I can’t say how it’s always been, I can tell you I’ve been here 21 years and we’ve always patrolled/answered calls within the Rood Center,” spokesman Andrew Trygg said. of Nevada. County Sheriff’s Office. Trygg said deputies were never assigned to the Rood Center security office during his tenure.
Trygg said that although the Rood Center is within the city limits of Nevada City, the sheriff’s office has a memorandum of understanding with the Nevada City Police Department that gives jurisdiction “over the interior of the Rood Center. “.
Polt said some of the increased costs were incurred to plan and execute an active fire exercise – overseen by the risk management department.
Polt said tracking changes in county security measures is difficult because past private security contracts were issued through the Department of Health and Human Services, while security cameras or plexiglass would be added through the facilities budget.
Nevada County Chief Information Officer Steve Monaghan said Facilities and IT Services worked together to install four new cameras at the Rood Center over the past two years for $5,000.
According to Anderson, the staff of the CEO and county auditor-comptroller ensure eligibility and alignment with federal guidelines and county priorities when using American Rescue Plan Act funding, then formally establish the budget by resolution of the supervisor.
“Requests to use ARPA funding for security officers and cybersecurity enhancements have not yet gone through this process,” Anderson said, adding that increased security costs may eventually be covered. from the general county budget.
Anderson said the board’s priority is to reinvest in the community, which is why 30% of ARPA’s $19.3 million in funding was allocated for community reinvestment.
“All county programs have been impacted. That’s just one of the COVID-related impacts,” Anderson said in weighing the increased need for security against other needs. “No one in management will deny the real threats people have felt. That’s why we’ve moved forward with “yes, let’s increase the contract” – security – for now.
Anderson said the county’s general fund has the capacity to absorb increased costs if needed, “or we could subsidize all or part with ARPA if needed,” depending on how it fits into the overall picture of county needs.
Cybersecurity could also fall under a security budget, if there was one, Polt said, but the funds are instead managed by the county’s information technology department.
Unlike the city of Grass Valley, the city of TruckeeSierra College, Nevada Irrigation District or Yuba County, Monaghan noted that Nevada County has not been the victim of a hacking incident.
“Cybercriminals pose a real threat to the county, as they do to all government and private sector entities, as well as all individuals using their personal technology,” Monaghan said, adding that county staff have dedicated a considerable time and resources to ensure its cybersecurity.
Monaghan said the county has spent $800,000 over the past two years on new cybersecurity-related IT investments with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the county’s Enterprise Technology Fund and the CARES Act. .
The IT department’s budget has increased by approximately $200,000 per year with a new position and the cybersecurity consultant’s annual contract, as well as annual cybersecurity software/hardware support costs.
“CARES funded the new firewalls and endpoint protection software etc., about 80% and the County Technology Fund picked up the balance,” Monaghan said, adding that the latter revenue stream is part of the balance. general from the county general fund reserve, designated for enterprise technology infrastructure purposes. “ARPA is being evaluated to reimburse the portion of the technology fund for items eligible for this program and for other pending cybersecurity needs.”
Monaghan said the increase may seem substantial to some, but government agencies typically spend between 2% and 4% of their total budget on IT.
“The county has a total budget of $285 million, and we spend about $6.5 million a year on IT, (which works out to) 2.3%,” Monaghan said, adding that the department takes in charge of approximately 1,150 users – employees, temporary workers, subcontractors, partners – who use the technological systems.
Polt said the county is committed to protecting its employees and customers and has made appropriate budget choices to meet changing needs.
“When you have 30 to 40 people showing up and a lot of contentious talk, some people say, ‘Man, there’s a possibility something could go wrong here,'” Polt said. “I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone – it’s not like it’s something invisible to our supervisors or our CEO.
“We are concerned about the health and well-being of our employees,” he added.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]