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Fairmont receives virus aid

FAIRMONT — As lawmakers in Washington debate additional funding for COVID relief, the first round of money from the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has reached Minnesota counties and communities, with Fairmont garnering $776,532.

“We didn’t have to apply for that money. We just had to fill out a request form,” said Paul Hoye, Fairmont’s finance director. “The dollar amount we received was based on population, so it was a set amount.”

At the end of June, the state received $853 million from the federal government to be used for COVID relief. Of those funds, $12 million was earmarked for food banks and food shelves, with $841 million sent to counties, cities and towns. Communities with population over 5,000, such as Fairmont, received $75.34 per person.

The money, received July 7, can be used for a variety of eligible expenses, from testing to economic support for small businesses. However, the Fairmont Economic Development Authority will receive more than $600,000 through the CARES Act to be used for a new revolving loan fund. If there is additional need, the city would have the opportunity to allot some of its grant money to provide more business support, Hoye said.

“We’ll make sure we’re covering our costs first, then we’ll look at economic support, but we do have the revolving loan fund, which would be the first option to provide that economic support,” he said.

“We will have quite a bit of expenditures on the public health side just for PPE (personal protective equipment) for hand sanitizing stations, plexiglass shields, face masks, cleaning products. We’ve already incurred quite a bit of cost in that area,” he said.

Payroll costs are another reimbursable expenditure, but this goes beyond a city employee being quarantined or sick with the virus.

“We have had some alternative schedules we developed to separate employees as much as we can to limit the spread of the virus within our departments,” Hoye said.

For example, the street and park department employees were separated into work squads with alternating shifts. If one employee tested positive for the virus, only the squad, not the entire department, would have to be quarantined.

“We would be paying for one group to be home, and that would be reimbursable because they’re not doing their normal duties. That’s not our normal business. We have quite a bit of that,” Hoye said.

Although some of the costs were included in the city’s annual budget, they still qualify as reimbursable as long as it was unrelated to regular job responsibilities.

The city also adapted its policy about employees in vehicles, which generated more expenses. Limiting vehicles to one employee required increased vehicle usage than normal.

Each grant recipient is required to report monthly to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, documenting how the CARES Act money was spent. Only costs related to COVID from March 1 to Nov. 15 qualify.

“I think the grant should offset any additional expense that the city will incur,” Hoye said. “Without the grant, we would be struggling,­ so it’s definitely helpful.”

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