new city hall spread out arrangement, caused by covid

One of the first obvious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for the Pierre City Commission was its spreading out to give "social distance" among commissioners and city staff, shown here in this March 24, 2020, photo. Mayor Steve Harding, left front; a small table was added in the rear for City Attorney Lindsey Riter-Rapp and, on the right, Finance Officer Twila Hight, who previously had seats at the main horseshoe-shaped desk, which now has more elbow room. 

The Pierre City Commission has agreed to terms with state officials to accept up to $3.1 million in federal funds to cover costs to the city from dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During its July 21 meeting, the Commission adopted unanimously a resolution to receive its slice of the CARES Act money pie from the federal government, distributed by the state.

Finance Officer Twila Hight told the five-member Commission the money can be used for pandemic-related costs from March 1 to Dec. 30, 2020.

“This resolution would authorize the city to use those funds,” Hight said. “It works on a reimbursement basis.”

It depends, then, on keeping good records of any COVID-19 related expenses, Hight said. And she said the city has been doing that since early March.

“We have tracked our COVID-related expenses as we go,” she said, because city leaders figured there might be such an aid program and that receipts would be needed.

The money can be used for many things as long as they are truly related to effects of the pandemic, Hight said. They might could include, say, buying laptop computers if some city employees need to work from home because of the concerns about the coronavirus spreading, Hight said. Or simply buying hand sanitizer and soap and other cleaning supplies to keep City Hall spic and span. For example, the microphones in the city commission room are frequently wiped down, between speakers at the public podium and after each meeting on the commission's desk.

The spending needs to be vetted, said Commissioner Jamie Huizenga.

“It’s not like they just sent us a check for $3.1 million. We may not recover all of that — or maybe we will,” he said.

It can’t include expenses already built into the budget before the effects of COVID-19 began hitting the city in March.

The city has to submit a reimbursement request, including documentation, for each discrete funding application and state officials will call the shots, according to the “Local Government COVID Recovery Fund Reimbursement Agreement.”

The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act” was passed by Congress in a bipartisan vote and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27. It provides more than $2 trillion in aid to ameliorate the health and economic effects of the pandemic across the nation.

South Dakota received about $1.25 billion and Gov. Kristi Noem directed about $200 million be set aside for local governments.

“I would like to say ‘thank you,’ to Gov. Noem for sharing the money received with local governments,” Mayor Steve Harding said. “We all have additional costs.”

City leaders have known the pandemic would cut into sales tax revenues as businesses had to close or reduce hours and customer seating because of concerns about the coronavirus spreading, Harding has said.

He has said the city's lack of a mandate requiring all businesses to either close or require masks being worn by all customers has allowed individuals and individual businesses to adapt the federal and state guidelines to the situations on the ground in town.

Harding said it seems to have worked pretty well.

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