CASA GRANDE — The city of Casa Grande is looking to fund a mix of residential and business programs with federal CARES Act money in the coming weeks.
At Monday’s study session, the Casa Grande City Council gave City Manager Larry Rains more direction on how and where the funds should be spent. The council wants to spend the funds on projects such as food to those in need, child care services, internet access for local students, utility and housing assistance, funding for police body cameras, restoring funds to local nonprofit partners and covering part of the cost of beautifying the railroad underpass on West Gila Bend Highway.
It also wants to offer funding to help local businesses, but plans for those programs are still in the works. Rains has also suggested that the city hold half of its CARES Act funding in reserve for possible future COVID-19 needs.
The city expects to receive $6.7 million in AZCares funding. The AZCares fund is the remaining $441 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money that the state of Arizona received from the federal government.
Government can only use federal CARES Act funds to help cover payroll and personal protective equipment expenses for public safety and public health employees. Gov. Doug Ducey is encouraging cities and counties to swap the money from their general funds that they would normally have spent on public safety with CARES Act money, then take the general fund money they normally would have used on public safety and use it to provide extra services to their communities and local business to support them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday night, Rains suggested partnering with local nonprofits such as Seeds of Hope, Community Action Human Resources Agency and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor that already provide programs such as food boxes, utility and rental assistance and child care services. This would allow the city to provide services to the public without having to directly manage the programs.
For example, the city could provide funds to the Boys & Girls Clubs to partner with the local school districts to rent or lease space in school buildings for after-school or child care programs, he said.
Another CARES Act project supported by the council would be to work with the Casa Grande Elementary School District and Casa Grande Union High School District to partially cover the cost of providing internet access to students who do not have it at home.
Rains said he and Mayor Craig McFarland have been in contact with both school districts and a couple of internet service providers about the best way to provide internet service to students.
The city is also looking at using some of the money to cover the cost of body cameras for the Police Department’s patrol officers. Staff is still working on an estimate of the cost to purchase the cameras, the cloud storage for the video and to hire staff to redact and manage the data from the system.
The city might also use about $75,000 of the funds to cover part of the cost to beautify the railroad underpass on West Gila Bend Highway. Most of the cost for the beautification project is already covered by beautification funds the city already has and a series of grants the city has received, Rains said.
The council also liked the idea of restoring about $16,000 in funds to several of the local nonprofit organizations it partners with on a yearly basis, such as Seeds of Hope and Community Action Human Resources Agency, to provide social services to the community.
One of the greatest concerns of council members was to get the funds out to the public as quickly as possible while keeping track of how the funds are spent.
Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Navarro Fitzgibbons said she wanted to know what kind of application and approval process would be in place for the funds and if there was a way to make sure that other organizations, ones that haven’t worked with the city in the past, would have a chance at the funds.
“I see it both ways,” said Councilman Matt Herman. “I want to get these funds out quickly but also allow others to apply.”
Rains suggested that partnering with existing nonprofits that already provide the services would cut down on the time for getting the funds out to help the public.
He also suggested using an approval process that would include council review. That kind of a process would give other local nonprofits that don’t currently partner with the city a chance to apply for the money and create new programs to help residents or businesses.
The council could also give the City Manager’s Office the authority to review and approve applications or direct the office to create a committee to review and approve the applications up to a certain dollar amount, for example $50,000, Rains said. Anything over $50,000 would come before the council for approval.
Councilman Bob Huddleston said he was concerned about the city getting “mired down in our own red tape” if every application came before the council. He suggested allowing the City Manager’s Office to handle the application process but come to the council for approval of applications that exceeded a certain dollar amount.
Councilwoman Donna McBride agreed.
“I think we really need to get this money out there as quickly as possible,” she said.
Fitzgibbons also asked about tracking the use of the funds so that council members could report back to the public on how the funds were spent.
Rains said staff were looking at a reporting process that is similar to one that the city already has in place with some of the nonprofits it works with on a regular basis. That would give the city and council enough information to track how the funds were used and report back to the public.
In its regular meeting Monday night, the council:
- Gave final approval for the $407,446 purchase of 50 portable radios for the Casa Grande Police Department to replace outdated equipment.
- Gave final approval to an agreement to sell treated water from the city’s wastewater treatment plant to Nacero for its gasoline plant. The sale of the water is expected to generate about $300,000 in the first year of the agreement for the city.
- Accepted the resignation of Tammy Anderson from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
- Approved submitting an application for housing rehabilitation funds for residents to the Arizona State Housing Fund.
- Approved an $87,429.84 contract with Motorola to provide repair and maintenance services for the Police and Fire Department radio equipment.
- Approved property tax rates for the new fiscal year.