Baxter joins coalition of Crow Wing County cities to pool CARES funding
The funding will come out of $638,000 in CARES Act funds allocated to the city of Baxter.
As the city of Baxter makes preparations for a tough road ahead amid economic fallout from COVID-19, they won’t do so alone.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, the Baxter City Council voted unanimously to join Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Economic Assistance Grant Program with Crow Wing County — or, in simple terms, a common pool that cities can join and contribute in order to strengthen the federal grant process for local small businesses and nonprofits.
In passing the resolution, the council agreed to an initial transfer of $100,000, approximately 15.6% of the city’s CARES allocation, with a pledge to transfer any remaining dollars once all of Baxter’s CARES expenditures have been encumbered, approved by the council, and reviewed by auditors. These funds are to be distributed in the following ration: 75% to for-profit business grants and 25% to nonprofit grants.
The federal CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, allocates nearly $2 trillion to the states to alleviate economic shortfall from COVID-19, as well as to support state’s efforts to combat the pandemic. Of that sum, the state of Minnesota received $2.1 billion and, of that sum, the city of Baxter received a total of $638,000, which cannot be used for lost revenue or to supplement payrolls, unless this pay is directly tied to COVID-19 efforts. These expenditures have to be identified between March 1 and Nov. 15 of this year — a short time frame, Mayor Darrel Olson noted, which was shortened all the more by the state’s reluctance to release the funds.
Council members didn’t spend long on the subject, though it was noted this compact has been a matter of discussion, analysis and debate for more than a month.
During the Aug. 4 council workshops, City Administrator Brad Chapulis noted staff are carefully combing through a litany of potential measures the city should utilize these funds for — everything from touchless door knobs and faucets, improved ventilation systems, augmented broadband capabilities for distance meeting, sanitation and masks, workers compensation, and more. The three areas of focus are operating expenditures, capital expenditures and economic assistance, Chapulis said.
At the time, Chapulis said the staff’s goal was to have a list of expenditures for the council to review at the Aug. 26 workshop.
“We don't know what the end result is,” Chapulis said. “As you've seen throughout this whole pandemic, the rules change from time to time.”
In terms of pooling some of these economic assistance funds with the county, Chapulis said it would likely streamline the application and allocation process, so area cities can be strategic with subsidies, ensure that businesses and nonprofits aren’t able to “double dip” on funds from multiple municipalities, and to address shortfalls for organizations that operate across city lines. In short, Chapulis said, it represents an integration of resources to address the needs of an integrated local economy.
During that workshop, council member Mark Cross expressed strong approval for pooling funds with other cities in Crow Wing County.
“I think the idea of pooling our funds together across the county is a good idea,” Cross said. “There are excellent reasons why we can, if we can leverage it so more people get help — that's all the better.”
In turn, council member Zach Tabatt also expressed support for the initiative, but also urged Chapulis — as a primary representative of the city in this coalition — to ensure Baxter remains an active partner aware of its responsibilities to its citizens and businesses. He noted, with some trepidation, that Crow Wing County officials seemed — from his perspective — to be moving forward quickly and gave little indication they were willing to work with local cities in a cooperative manner as equal players.
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .