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Amherst town officials map out uses for CARES money

Amherst town officials map out uses for CARES money

An infusion of $381,266 in federal aid money into the Town of Amherst’s budget to help government officials tackle expenses and challenges from the coronavirus will restore pay raises for town employees and award grants for small businesses, among other spending measures.

Amherst Town Council voted during its Sept. 9 meeting to designate a plan for the $381,266 received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act. The town already has spent about $10,000 in expenses related to COVID-19 the money will cover, Interim Town Manager Kimball Payne said.

The town’s finance committee recommended using CARES money to support salaries of town police officers through Dec. 30, a “salary swap” measure that frees up $371,242 and doesn’t come with time constraints, according to town officials.

“We can now have more leniency and do the things we need to do within not that hard of a timeframe,” Vice Mayor Rachel Carton said.

Amherst County, which received $5.5 million in CARES money, also enacted a salary switch for pubic safety that accumulated more than $1 million in savings for the county board of supervisors to use beyond the Dec. 30 deadline.

The town will use $70,000 for audio, video and heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements at the town hall along with an additional $10,000 to replace the computer server in that building. Payne described the server as outdated.

Another $70,000 will restore previous budget cuts in the current fiscal year 2020-21 budget, including $42,000 for a 2% raise for town employees and $18,150 in combined contributions to the Amherst Fire Department, the Amherst County Museum and Historical Society, Second Stage Amherst and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a food distribution outreach.

Other uses for the town’s CARES spending are $24,000 in hazard pay for the town’s law enforcement officers, $12,700 to help the police department assist the public, $10,500 to further fund an intern position that is assisting town police in making strides for achieving state accreditation and $54,000 for council’s contingency reserve as needs arise.

“Building your reserves in a crisis is a very smart thing to do and this would do that,” Payne told council.

The town’s largest line item of CARES spending is $120,000 to help small businesses through grants. Payne said the town’s Industrial Development Authority recently accepted a plan for how to go about awarding grants.

“We’re going to mirror the county’s process,” Payne said.

The Amherst County Board of Supervisors set aside $300,000 for small business grants and $200,000 for nonprofits.

The board also recently agreed for another $150,000 to go toward small businesses.

Victoria Hanson, executive director of the Amherst County Economic Development Authority, said Sept. 9 the grant awards for nonprofits have been nearly exhausted and about $296,000 of the initial $300,000 in small business grants had been given out, with two new applications set for review on Sept. 11.

Another $500,000 federal grant program for businesses, which is separate from the CARES money, had about 20 applications set for review on Sept. 11, according to Hanson.

That “back in business” grant process takes about four to six weeks for businesses to receive relief, which is longer than the county’s grant for small businesses, Hanson said. The quick turnaround is important for a lot of businesses looking to make ends meet in difficult times, she added.

“A lot of times savings are getting depleted during the pandemic, so cash on hand to pay your rent and utilities is very important,” Hanson said.

Hanson said more than 700 letters recently were mailed out to let the county’s businesses know of the two grant opportunities.

“So literally every business who is known by the Commissioner of the Revenue should have gotten a letter telling them about the grant,” Hanson said.

Council held a public hearing Sept. 9 on amending the town’s budget to reflect the receipt of CARES money, which drew no comments. Payne said the hearing was necessary because the total CARES money exceeds 1% of the town’s operating budget.

The budget also was amended to include $13,797 from an insurance settlement related to the failure of a piece of equipment at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The settlement money was plugged into the town’s sewer fund for operations.

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