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Staunton City Council chambers in City Hall. (Photo: Claire Mitzel/The News Leader)

STAUNTON – The City of Staunton has received more Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, relief funds to help aid city and school expenses. 

The CARES Act funds can be used for any expenses incurred during and due to COVID-19. 

On May 12, it was announced the city would receive $2,175,221 in CARES Act relief funds. By July 28, the city received a second round of CARES Act funding, for a revised total of $4,350,442.

As of June 30, $132,485 was to be used on COVID-related costs for both the city and Staunton City Schools to enact protection and prevention measures like testing for employees, floor markings for physical distancing for elections and other city departments, custodial services and glass and plexiglass partitions for customer service areas among other items, a release said.

Funds were also provided for business assistance with PPE kits and the match requirement for the Emergency Disaster Relief Loan Program for businesses administered by the Staunton Creative Community Fund, the release said.

So far, in fiscal year 2021, over $1.9 million has been spent or is planned on being spent for government, school and community purposes. The largest allocation — $1 million — has gone to Staunton City Schools for nutrition needs like student meal delivery; technology needs like including increases in wireless and server capacity; and support for operations and transportation, the release said.

The next largest expenditure — $500,000 — will be allocated to Business Recovery/Assistance through the Small Business Assistance Grant program administered by Staunton’s Economic Development Authority. Funds have also gone to support public safety operations and general facility and city staff needs, the release said. 

There are still requests being considered for the remaining unallocated CARES Act funding, which include temporary housing, public safety, tourism and business assistance as well as the possibility of providing hazard pay for eligible city personnel, the release said.

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A full rundown of how the funds would be dispersed was presented to City Council at its work session on Sept. 10. Here’s a breakdown on how that money was spent, according to the Staunton City Council Work Session agenda from Sept. 10:

All Departments/General Facilities – $127,884

  • PPE, including mask dispensers for the public, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies for all public buildings
  • Physical distancing markings in all customer service areas
  • Signage informing the public and employees of recommended safety practices
  • Staff time substantially dedicated to COVID-related activities, such as cleaning restrooms
  • and other public areas on a more frequent basis and communications services
  • Touchless technology for bathrooms, such as touchless sinks, soap dispensers, toilets
  • and foot-operated trashcans
  • Updates to courthouse audio equipment, meals for jurors and additional courtroom
  • cleaning/disinfecting

Human Resources/Employees – $97,425

  • Elimination of all furlough days for public safety employees
  • Teleworking expenses to better accommodate employees who need to work from home Serology testing for any city employee who requests it

Public Safety – $93,449

  • Sheriff Office’s vehicle to accommodate the transport of prisoners and maintain separation
  • Four cardiac defibrillators to maintain distance from possible COVID-19 patients during CPR, reduce number of caregivers needed during a cardiac arrest incident and improve caregiver safety when providing CPR during transport
  • Middle River Regional Jail related expenses

Business Recovery/Assistance – $500,000

  • Small Business Assistance Grant program administered by Staunton Economic Development Authority

City Schools – $1,106,479

  • Technology needs, including increase in wireless and server capacity
  • Operations and transportation, PPE, touchless faucets and toilets, and sanitation equipment
  • Nutrition needs including meal delivery for students and associated equipment

The city is recommending a variety of other expenditures through Dec. 30. Here’s a breakdown of those recommendations:

  • Support for Individuals/Nonprofits – $250,000
    • Working through the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, which would serve as a sub-recipient of the funds, staff recommends allocating funds for the following purposes:
  • Rent/Mortgage Assistance – $125,000
  • Gas/Electric Utilities Assistance – $25,000
  • Childcare Assistance – $100,000
  • City Schools – $458,690
    • Technology needs, including increase in wireless and server capacity
    • Childcare for school employees
  • SDDA – $12,000
    • Funding will help make the downtown experience better and safer in light of physical distancing and the need to brand formerly in person events to virtual events.
    • Funds will pay for live cam technology, a digital shopping and dining guide, additional sandwich boards to provide signage on how to enjoy downtown in a safe manner and additional mobile power boxes for special events.
  • Visitor Center/Tourism – $32,240
    • Preparing to reopen the visitor center and making the tourist experience safer in the COVID-19 environment would include interactive displays, digital tourism guides, PPE and face coverings for the public, contactless visitor sign-in system, outdoor kiosk to eliminate the need to entire the center, two air purifiers and updated bathrooms with touchless technology.
  • HVAC Improvements – Courts and City Buildings – $100,000 (estimate)
    • Still under review until the city’s HVAC contractor, Carrier, can perform an assessment as to what various options might be available to improve air quality in city facilities.
  • Technology Improvements – Council Chambers and Caucus Room – $200,000 (estimate)
    • There are several improvements being explored by staff to enhance the public meeting experience in Council Chambers and the Caucus Room as hybrid or all virtual meetings continue to be the norm. These include the following:
      • Audio improvements to integrate better with Zoom
      • In room video and presentation displays that can be integrated with Zoom
      • Audio stream improvements
      • Streaming video
      • Integrating the public comment sections into the system to include more
      • Efficient call screening and handling
      • Smart boards in the Caucus Room
  • Planning and Development Software – $50,000
    • This enterprise package software for permit and plan review management and code enforcement will allow customers to access these services online rather than requiring them to visit City Hall in person. This will improve responsiveness to citizens as well as efficiency for staff.
  • Valley Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) – $3,950
    • VASAP requested funds to purchase technology to facilitate the provision of services to clients during the pandemic, including virtual class instruction.
    • Funding would cover the cost of two desktop computers, one laptop computer, two cameras and an intercom system that would allow their staff to communicate with clients in the lobby area to maintain appropriate physical distance.
  • Reserved Contingency – $501,840
    • Set aside for contingency purposes including, for example, for the purchase of additional PPE, disinfectant and sanitizing needs, teleworking needs, technology to improve virtual meetings and increase transparency, staffing needs to continue Dine Out in Downtown, and building modifications.
  • Unreserved – $684,000
    • Funds unallocated at the present time. Current unfunded requests under consideration, as detailed below, exceed proposed CARES Act funding by $298,935, excluding the costs of addressing temporary housing needs or hazard pay.

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You can reach reporter Laura Peters at lpeters@newsleader.com. Follow her @peterslaura.

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