Medford is considering ways to dole out $96,737 in federal coronavirus funding before the Nov. 15 deadline to spend the money.
The Medford City Council is in the process allocating the money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to city departments, the school district and business community. Unspent funds will be returned to the state after the deadline.
The city has received funding requests from businesses totaling $26,000 as of Monday morning, according to City Administrator Andy Welti. The council will be approving recipients for its Small Business Grant Program, which will provide up to $5,000 to each business that can show a direct negative impact due to the coronavirus.
“The businesses in Medford are facing the same challenges as many businesses around the state and country, which was incurring significant decreases in revenue at the beginning of the COVID outbreak,” Welti said. “The city is hoping to have checks issued to businesses in the last week of October or first week of November.”
Welti said the businesses’ applications show that the months of March, April and May — which encompass the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home executive order — were the hardest months in 2020 in terms of revenue. He said the businesses are most commonly applying for funds to cover rental payments, utility bills and payroll.
“The city is hoping that the businesses will continue to operate now and well into the future,” Welti said. “This money should provide them some relief to do that.”
The city also incurred about $15,000 to $20,000 in expenses directly related to the pandemic in terms of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, germ barriers for election judges and at the municipal liquor store, and legal expenses for writing and reviewing policies related to the pandemic. The CARES Act funding will help reimburse the city for those expenses.
Funds will also be used to help the Medford Fire Department purchase items that include uniforms and a decontamination shower system.
“The idea is so they can use these uniforms when they go out on a call, return to the station and have that uniform be washed and sanitized at the department,” Welti said. “In the past they did not have that, so this allows them to respond to a call and not have to worry about having contaminated clothing going back home with them.”
Council unanimously approved last week to allocate up to $30,000 of the CARES Act funding to go towards the Fire Department for these items.
Funding for the Medford school district is still up in the air. Last month, the district requested $13,158 from the city’s coronavirus funds to reimburse the schools for the purchase of additional technology needed for distance learning, specifically the purchase of tablets for students. The state’s guidance on permissible items for the funding didn’t include school districts last month. However, since then the guidance has changed to allow cities to transfer those funds to school districts. The Medford school district’s request is expected to be presented at the city council’s next meeting.
Welti said he believes the state updated their guidelines on appropriate use of CARES Act funding to include distributing dollars to local schools because of pressure the state government likely felt from local governments.
“The state and federal level government have been responsive to many of the requests from the local units of government,” Welti said. “There has been good cooperation, and I think that a lot of governments at different levels have the attitude that this is all new and we have to work together in the best interest of our communities, businesses and residents.”