BRISTOL, Va. — City leaders voted to appropriate more than $930,000 in federal CARES Act funding Tuesday, hours after learning another round is on the way.
The city received $1.4 million in the first round of federal aid to offset impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Tuesday’s vote commits most of those funds to purchase technology and supplies and fund overtime for emergency services. The appropriation came from a series of committee recommendations.
“It’s a lot of one-time expenses that provide supplies that will make working in the city safer, help protect the workforce, provide for workers to work remotely, a lot of things that will protect citizens — such as at the jail — trying to mitigate what could become a hot spot,” Mayor Bill Hartley said after a 3½-hour meeting. “I think the committee did a good job finding things that would help us both react and prepare for what may come.”
Items on the list include:
- $72,300 for temperature monitoring devices, temperature scanners and kiosks to be used in public buildings and emergency vehicles to regularly monitor staff and the public.
- $96,800 for computers, servers and technology to better outfit city employees to work remotely if needed — as was the case in the spring.
- $50,000 for personal protective equipment for employees to work in areas where someone has tested positive for COVID-19, such as the seven police officers and one dispatcher currently in quarantine.
- $27,300 for technology so jail inmates can be arraigned, have hearings or talk with attorneys remotely rather than be transported to court. The system would correspond to technology in the courthouse.
- $40,700 for technology so the City Council, Planning Commission and IDA could better broadcast meetings for public access and interaction to replace existing, outdated equipment. Meetings are currently limited to 10 members of the public plus staff and council.
- $40,000 for PPE supplies specifically for the Sheriff’s Office and jail should one or more employees or prisoners test positive for the virus.
- $100,000 for overtime for police, fire, Sheriff’s Office and public works employees.
- $90,000 to remodel public access to City Hall, which is currently closed to the public, to limit potential virus spread.
- $120,000 for grants to local businesses and agencies impacted by the pandemic and subsequent government-imposed restrictions.
City Manager Randy Eads said city departments are expected to begin ordering the equipment and supplies immediately.
“We hope we can get these in relatively quickly, but every other locality and every other business across the nation are ordering these same kinds of things,” Eads said.
About $213,000 is left over. Following an extended discussion and a presentation from Discover Bristol — the convention and visitors Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce — Councilman Neal Osborne made a motion to appropriate an additional $100,000 to fund tourism marketing to assist local hotels, restaurants and other businesses impacted by the shutdown. He later withdrew that motion, at the request of CFO Tamrya Spradlin, and the council is now expected to hold a called meeting later this week to consider that request.
In other matters, Dr. Karen Shelton of the Mount. Rogers Health District told the council that models currently forecast a spike in COVID cases in Southwest Virginia in September. The region has generally had much fewer cases than larger areas of the state or its neighbors in Tennessee, but the city has experienced 44 total cases — including 40 in the last four weeks.
Eads said the city police officers have experienced relatively mild symptoms since testing positive.
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