North Branch disperses CARES Act money to non-profits

When the City of North Branch decided to dedicate some of its CARES Act funds to grants for non-profits, the council presented itself the unenviable task of deciding who and how much money would be given to those who applied. And with the clock rapidly reaching midnight for spending the money or giving it back to the federal government, the council spent a good portion of their Oct. 27 meeting making those tough decisions.

At the onset, City Administrator Renae Fry told the council that the city had set aside $150,000 for the non-profit grants, however after all of the applications were submitted, the total amount requested was around $213,000. Fry told the council that, after consulting with Finance Director Joseph Starks, they could distribute the total amount requested if they chose.

A total of seven entities submitted requests for funds, with the amounts ranging from $10,000 to $65,000 or more. After going through each of the requests individually, the council unanimously approved allocating CARES Act money to the following applicants:

Viking Vittles: $21,560 for continued food dispersement to area youth.

Catholic Charities: $15,000 for a steamer for the Chisago County Senior Center to be used with their Meals on Wheels service and $12,000 for the purchase of ipads to be given to seniors as part of their social circle program that enables seniors to be able to remotely communicate with family and friends.

Family Pathways: $10,000 for the purchase of food for their food shelf program.

Lakes Region EMS: $13,500 for PPEs and $70,000 for two portable ventilators. Lakes Region had specifically requested the $13,500, but also submitted an open-ended request for the ventilators, which cost $35,000 each. After adding up all of the other requests that were granted, the council agreed to the $70,000 amount, which kept them under the original $150,000 amount. 

The total of these awards is $142,060.

Additionally, the council awarded $26,434 to North Branch Water & Light to be used to reimburse the purchase of COVID related items, along with staff and employee reimbursement. That money, however, will be allocated from the city’s business-related CARES assistance program after Council Member Kathy Blomquist questioned if the NBW&L was a “non-profit” organization. Fry told the council they aren’t a recognized non-profit, however they are a non-taxable entity, which means they fit the city’s parameters for receiving funding. Mayor Jim Swenson added NBW&L had also applied for Chisago County CARES money, but were turned down because the county considered them too much of an extension of city government.

Two applicants did not receive money at this time, however the council agreed to take another look at their applications at their Nov. 10 meeting once the city has tabulated all of their CARES Act spending. If there is money left over, those two applicants would be reconsidered. 

The first was Fairview M. Health, who requested $65,000, which is approximately 10% of Fairview’s total expenses. Fry said in their application, they stated approximately 10% of their patients are from North Branch, so that is how they came up with that amount.

The other applicant was Lakes and Pines, who requested $50,000 for “art classes, puzzles, exercises and music programs” for North Branch seniors. 

Broadband through cares money delayed

Also on the CARES Act front, Fry told the council that staff has come to the conclusion that the city will not be able to implement the construction of a fixed wireless network to bring high speed internet to the city’s residents by the Nov. 15 deadline.

“Despite the mayor’s best efforts over hundreds of calls, as well as calls from others, the Minnesota House did not take up our legislation,” Fry said. “So on the advice of the Broadband Task Force, we as a staff are recommending you amend your funds use policy.”

Fry said the $400,000 that was originally earmarked for high speed internet should now be allocated for reimbursement of Public Safety employee payroll expenses, which is allowable under the CARES Act. She added that this doesn’t mean the broadband initiative is dead. Since the money allocated to public safety was originally budgeted in the city’s general fund, that money will still be available in the future to be reallocated towards broadband, meaning broadband would be indirectly funded through CARES money.

Additionally, since the deadline for cities to allocate their CARES money is Nov. 15, at the Nov. 10 council meeting, staff will have the total amount of CARES Act money the council has approved, and any money left over would also be applied to Public Safety expenses so the city will not have to give any of the CARES Act money back to the Federal Government.

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