Sanpete cities, towns may get COVID relief money
By Rhett Wilkison
A cash windfall has fallen on the doorsteps of cities and towns throughout Sanpete County, and even the county government, thanks to the CARES Act.
However, the money must be spent on measures to mitigate and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That requirement has local public officials seeking appropriate ways to spend the money.
President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) on March 27. Part of the act provides funding to county and city governments.
Utah, through the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), is providing the funding in three “tranches,” or phases of payment, a GOMB spokesman said.
The first phase is paid after a city or county returns a funding agreement.
In the second phase, government entities had to respond to questions from the GOMB. If they did, they became eligible for second-phase payments, which started going out on Friday, Aug. 28.
Once governments receive funds, they are required to report to GOMB quarterly on how they have spent them.
Besides the county, eight cities have received funds while one has returned its agreement and is waiting for money. As of Tuesday, Sept. 1, four hadn’t returned agreements to get the funds.
The county has received $2.08 million of the $3.1 million for which it is eligible.
County Auditor Stacey Lyon said extra funds would be going to the Treasurer’s, Recorder’s and Assessors’ offices. The funds will enable the Treasurer’s office to help more than one person at the same time. Plans for the Recorder’s and Assessor’s offices are still being worked out.
According to http://www.sanpetecounty.org, the county “is launching a business grant program to assist local businesses that have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Qualifications for the grant are:
- The business has to be in the county and have an active business license;
- The business must be in an industry impacted by the pandemic;
- The business has to demonstrate a decrease in revenue and net income from March to August as contrasted to the identical 2019 time period, “as a direct result of COVID-19.”
“Grant funds may be used for working capital, payroll, rent, utilities or other business-related expenses,” the website reads.
Interested businesses should contact Kevin Christensen, Sanpete County economic development director, at 835-4321.
Following is a rundown of where cities in the county stand in applying for an receiving money from the CARES program.
Cities that have returned agreements
The city has received $87,494 of $131,241 for which it is eligible but hasn’t decided how to spend the money.
“We haven’t actually talked about it in a meeting or anything yet, so as of right now, we don’t have anything in mind,” a staff member said.
The city has $39,740 of $119,220 for which it is eligible. In the Aug. 20 council meeting, Councilman Brad Welch invited residents come to him or Mayor David Taylor with ideas about how to spend the money.
In an interview Monday, Taylor said the CARES Act is “very specific as to what you can use it for.” Items the council has already listed are “safety-related,” he said.
Communities talking about other ideas are “not following the spirit of the law,” Taylor added. “Maybe we’re being too cautious, but we want to be correct when we do it,” he said.
Bringing restrooms “up to standard” is the “best project” the city has, Taylor said “As the day goes along, as we get new directions, maybe things will change.”
The mayor added, “We’re thankful to get what we’ve got.”
The city has received $34,067 of $102,201 for which it is eligible.
Recorder Michelle Walker said the city has a new public safety building going up and the council has been thinking of things that might go into the building.
“We’ve talked about the touchless hand dryers in the restrooms; the Plexiglas in the office; maybe a drop box so (citizens) wouldn’t have to come in,” to pay bills.
The city has $209,786 of $314,679 for which it is eligible.
“Nothing has been finalized as of yet” on how to spend the money, City Recorder Steven Jenson said.
Jenson indicated expenditure of the money might come up at the city council meeting last night (Wednesday).
The city has received $214,406 of $321,609 for which it is eligible.
City Manager Kent Barton said the state of Utah has “given a very defined listing” of what the city can do with the money, so the city is “working within those guidelines.”
The town has $32,752 of $49,128 it is eligible to receive, according to Clerk-Recorder Amanda Bennett.
Town council members “have some ideas kicking around,” Bennett said, that they will “expound” on in their Wednesday, Sept. 9 meeting.
The city has received $45,530 of $136,590 for which it is eligible. City officials didn’t respond to requests for comment about what they plan to do with the money.
The city has $103,460 of $310,380 for which it is eligible.
Mt. Pleasant is involved in four things related to CARES Act funds, Monte Bona, director of the Community Development Renewal Agency, said.
First, the city is coordinating with Sanpete County to receive input regarding businesses in the city that were forced to close as a result of COVID-19 (including Coffee Depot).
Second, Mt, Pleasant wants try to get Dominion Energy to extend natural gas to businesses in the city’s industrial park.
“Some of the business owners who have been hard hit by COVID-19 are anxious to get gas service,” Bona wrote in a follow-up message to Brennen Cain, a legislative assistant to Rep. Ben McAdams.
“[I] want a congressman’s opinion because they can tell you the legislative intent,” Bona said.
Third, Financial Director Dave Oxman is going through his disbursements for issues related to the pandemic.
Fourth, Bona is trying to learn about the relationship between a transformer going out that led to a recent power outage in Mt. Pleasant “and the demands on the system.”
He wondered if folks are spending more time in their cabins, getting away from the Wasatch Front, and if more people are working from home.
“That’s the underlying research question we’re looking into,” Bona said.
City in the process of getting funds
An amount of $216,277 is pending out of $648,831 for which the city is eligible.
According to the GOMB spokesman, the city returned the first-phase agreement on Friday, Aug. 28. Later that day, Kjar said he had received confirmation that GOMB had received the agreement.
“We just don’t want to spend it on everything. We’re hearing all sorts of wild things from Arizona, from all sorts of people in Utah.”
Regarding how the funds will be used, Kjar said there are “questions on what it can be spent on … That’s something that everybody is trying to pin down, not just in Utah but in other states,” Kjar said.
“It could be beneficial,” Kjar said.
Cities that have not returned any agreements
The town could get $23,247. Mayor Jed Bartholomew said the city had no plans to sign the agreement for the money, and that there were no COVID-related expenses to speak of in Fayette.
The city could get $94,920.
Mayor Cynthia DeGrey said she had not submitted paperwork requesting funds and didn’t know if the city would apply.
At the Aug. 6 Spring City Council meeting, DeGrey asked city employees to make “an extremely creative wish list” of ways to use the money.
A meeting attendee suggested the city use some of the money for the sewer systems, and Councilman Joe McGriff described the idea as a “point well-taken.”
Money must be spent by Nov. 30, and if it isn’t spent on COVID-19 prevention, it has to be returned, DeGrey noted.
The town could get $28,074. The town didn’t respond to a request for comment on its interest in the program.
The town could get $32,985. Wales has not “applied” for the money because it has not had enough COVID-related expenses, which so far have been less than $150, Town Clerk Velva Lee Sherman said.
“We’ve got a really good deal with a business in town that will come and clean our building and sanitize it after it’s used,” Sherman said.
The city has had the office locked and only opens it by appointment, she said.
The city has also paid a woman to disinfect playground equipment and picnic tables.
“But we haven’t paid her too much,” Sherman said.