Brainerd council discusses uses for COVID relief funds
The city received about $1.03 million of the $841 million allocated to Minnesota.
Roughly a quarter-million dollars may be available for small business or nonprofit relief grants in Brainerd.
The city council discussed how to use its $1,034,572 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Monday, Aug. 3. Funds from the CARES Act can be used for expenses made necessary due to COVID-19 between March 1 and Nov. 15 not budgeted for 2020.
Brainerd will divvy up its funds into three buckets, Finance Director Connie Hillman told the council Monday. The first bucket is to reimburse the city for COVID-19 expenditures up until now, which amount to $320,946.22 and include:
Small business relief grants — $113,500.
Precautionary administrative leave for patrol officers — $40,039.60. This affected patrol staff who received 10 hours of pay without being at work to help ensure staff stayed healthy during the pandemic.
Parks maintenance staff — $18,711.92.
Street maintenance staff — $23,187.44. When the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, the city did not have precautions in place to allow maintenance staff to work. They received pay for two weeks, during which they were at home and their duties substantially changed. The city lost time relating to maintenance operations during those two weeks.
Records management staff — $19,880. During the stay-at-home order, records staff alternated days of work to social distance in the office. Since they were at home and unable to work, their duties substantially changed. The cost represents time staff was paid for hours they did not work.
COVID-19 leave — $1,917. One employee qualified for COVID-19 leave to be paid out at two-thirds of the employee’s hourly rate. COVID-19 leave requires employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave due to COVID-19.
Liquor license fee grant reduction — $33,033.33. The council provided relief to liquor license holders while they were closed due to the pandemic. It is not yet clear if this will be an eligible expense.
“You Betcha We’re Open” marketing campaign — $25,000.
School resource officer wage and benefits — $20,756.50. The Brainerd High School resource officer was reassigned to patrol duties when school closed during the pandemic, so the city reimbursed the school district for a portion of the contract.
Street foreman overtime — $5,796.
Cleaning/sanitation supplies — $2,035.95.
Personal protective equipment — $2,667.53.
Work from home expenses — $4,001.80.
Miscellaneous items (decontamination trailer, attorney fees, etc.) — $4,980.23.
Library — $25.76. Library staff needed a TracFone to work from home and postage for furlough notices.
Cleaning supplies, labor and barriers at Brainerd Public Utilities — $5,413.16.
Council President Gabe Johnson questioned the use of CARES Act funds to pay parks and street maintenance and records management staff while they were not working, as their salaries were budgeted for 2020. Hillman said their job duties changed because of COVID-19, and the city subsequently fell behind on maintenance projects. Johnson said that seemed like a generous expense, as the city could have technically sent them to work but chose not to out of an abundance of caution. Hillman said she is working with staff at CliftonAllenLarson and will make sure those are eligible expenses.
The second bucket of funding is for expected expenses between now and Nov. 15. An estimated $467,051.89 in that category includes:
BPU access control system and camera — $89,531.19.
Permanent access system at city hall, police department and fire department — $10,000.
Council chamber upgrades — $20,000. These upgrades will allow the council to televise meetings during COVID-19.
Monitors, laptops, desktops and webcams for staff to work remotely — $59,000.
Dual factor authentication for staff to work remotely — $4,000.
Migrating Office 365 to Cloud to better secure the network while working remotely — $30,000.
Cubicles — $50,000. Current city hall cubicles are not higher than face level, requiring staff to wear masks all day even while at their desks.
Continue marketing campaign — $25,000.
Additional cleaning/sanitation supplies — $8,000.
Additional personal protective equipment — $20,000.
Delinquent utility bills — $50,000. Customers would need to petition the council for relief of unpaid utility bills during the pandemic.
Continue street foreman overtime — $6,520.50.
Emergency operations center upgrades — $5,000.
Phone system upgrades for staff to use their personal phones to work remotely — $10,000.
Contingency — $100,000. These funds would be used for additional COVID-19 leave, continued WebEx subscriptions and any corrections to estimates.
Because these are likely the only COVID-19 relief funds the city will receive, Hillman said staff tried to allocate them in a way to save levy dollars down the road.
Johnson and Mayor Dave Badeaux criticized the use of $50,000 for cubicles. Johnson said that expense would be better put in the city’s long-term capital improvement fund. Badeaux said $50,000 seems outrageous for cubicles, and Plexiglas may be a better solution for the time being, especially when cubicles are something the city can budget for in the future.
Badeaux also said he doesn’t see the need for a controlled access system for city hall.
“I don’t like the idea that we’re blocking access to city hall,” he said. “... Once the front steps are there, what does it matter if five people come into city hall? I don’t understand what the big issue is. We’ve got the Plexiglas behind the counters. We’ve got our people behind locked doors. I don’t understand what the need at city hall is once the steps are back.”
The front steps are currently under construction, and visitors are using the east entrance.
Council member Dave Pritschet said these expenses seem reasonable, given no one knows how exactly the pandemic is going to play out.
“We could see this go up and down,” Pritschet said. “We need to get ourselves into a position where, if this does take a turn for the worse, we can be as available as possible to the public, and I think a lot of these measures allow us to do that.”
Council member Kelly Bevans said he looked at bucket No. 2 as more of a budget with guidelines for possible accepted uses of funds rather than a list of exact expenses.
Bucket No. 3 would then have $246,573.89 left over for another round of small business grants or for grants to nonprofits, which were not included in small business grants already doled out. Hillman and City Administrator Jennifer Bergman said they would bring the council more information on grants and other possible expenses to use those last funds on at the next council meeting Aug. 17.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .