City of Port Townsend awarded $288,300 in COVID-19 relief funds

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has approved receipt of $288,300 in Coronavirus Relief Fund money and will consider how to spend it.

The federal government has awarded Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding to cities and counties with populations over 500,000 to cover unexpected expenses necessary to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, as well as to states.

State decision

The state of Washington has chosen to allocate the funds that it has received to cities and counties, such as Port Townsend, that do not meet the population threshold for direct federal funding.

“On the face of it in the background of significant revenue shortfalls, looking at $288,000 of needed relief is a good thing. However, it’s a pretty small amount of funding in the big picture,” said John Mauro, Port Townsend city manager, on Monday.

“There is an increased expectation that, as we march through the phases of the Safe Start program, that we will be turning things on as soon as it’s possible,” Mauro added.

“I don’t think it’s contradictory to say that we will do everything we can to restore the services back to a level that the community expects and deserves. At the same time, the revenue shortfalls we are forecasting are very severe.”

Grant money

The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) grant can be used only for city expenses incurred between March 1 and Oct. 31 that are directly related to the public health emergency.

The state has identified six cost categories in which these funds can be used as long as they were not accounted for in the city’s 2020 budget and the funds are spent by Oct. 31.

The six eligible cost categories are medical expenses, public health, payroll, expenses to facilitate compliance with state public health measures, expenses associated with economic support, and other COVID-19-related expenses.

Recommendations

During its workshop meeting on Monday, city staff outlined some recommendations for the use of the funds within those categories based on necessities that they have identified.

One example is to recoup some of the expenses the city has incurred while responding to the pandemic, specifically boosting payroll for furloughed employees that may be returning for pandemic-related tasks such as updates to city facilities to meet Department of Health safety practices as well as enhanced sanitation and supply management.

Another is looking into projects that can be put together quickly but have long-term effects and benefits for the city such as reconfiguring the City Hall lobby, enhancing the permit portal to expand remote permit processes and replacing restroom sinks with touchless faucets and paper towel dispensers.

The funds also will go to working with local and intergovernmental groups to help the city’s economy recover while keeping people safe.

The next steps are for city staff to collaborate with Jefferson County — which has received just over $1.7 million in CRF — on potential shared approaches and projects, and quantify the costs after covering incurred expenses.

The council then will vote on the projects.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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