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January 15, 2021

11/6/2020 2:22:00 PM
North Branch reviews CARES Act applications, puts wireless internet project out for bidding

The North Branch City Council, with one council seat vacant and another one empty due to absence last week, reviewed time sensitive covid-19 CARES Act dispersements.

North Branch got over $800,000 based on population, in CARES Act aid which must be spent by mid-November or it goes back.  

North Branch set aside about half this sum for public safety expenses and there’s also money being requested for non-profits and business relief,  along with financial aid for other city departments.  
Last week there were several requests city staff were looking to be given a preliminary okay so applications can proceed.  

~ One of the larger requests was from Lakes Region EMS for unbudgeted costs in additional transports and callout hours,  and for two portable ventilators.  In a period of 10 days prior to the council meeting the emergency medical service reported it had five transports on ventilation.  The two additional units would put a ventilator in every ambulance, the units are $35,000 each and there was a cash request for $13,500.  This got the early okay from the three council members present.

~ Viking Vittles, a to-go meal supplement program for kids in the North Branch School District, got early approval for $21,000.  This is run through donations and is not funded under district revenues.

~Family Pathways said it needed $10,000 to replenish dwindling food inventory, with many more food shelf users at the North Branch site, as a result of the economic downturn due to covid-19.
~ Catholic Charities requested $15,000 for a food steamer (meals on wheels and former senior center dining site) and for bringing on additional virtual connectivity to area seniors, with a purchase of iPads at $12,000.

The North Branch Water and Light utility requested $26,000 to help with costs of unplanned personal protective equipment, a public space plexi-glass divider, etc.  But, this was determined to be a better fit under the businesses category for grants, and was shifted out of the agenda item for non-profit service agencies’ applications.

The goal is to have all federal CARES Act funding dedicated to eligible expenses by November 15.  Council will take final action on dispersements in early November.

MHealth Fairview requested an amount based on 10 percent of its patients and programs serving people from North Branch. The entire countywide need identified in CARES Act applications, was $650,000 as calculated from Fairview, with the North Branch grant request $65,000.  

The council preferred to wait on this item and see if any county aid or outside sources assist Fairview.

The East Central Regional Development Commission was on the list for $50,000 to fund on-line activities for seniors and other agency outreach programming.  Council member Kelly Neider termed this “extreme” and the other two council members agreed.  This request will be set-aside until follow-up can determine if the agency has qualified for any other monies.

Internet update
North Branch had hoped to see the rules guiding the federal CARES Act changed, so the city could dedicate almost a half-million dollars to broadband enhancements.  City officials had asked the state legislature for more time to meet the funding  deadline (get a broadband project ready to-go and finalize a provider contract-- but the effort fell short.  (Story Press Oct. 22)

So, the $400,000 identified for the not-yet-ready wireless internet effort went into covering over-budget costs in public safety, and the city  now has money to put into a wireless internet project.  

Council voted 3-0 to go out for bids and approved OWL Engineering to develop wireless system bid specs.

There is to be a brief special council meeting, 10 a.m.  Nov. 9 just to award the bid.

In one final action, council voted 3-0 to authorize the firefighter annual pension benefit to go to $3,700 from $3,600.  Fire Chief Kevin Grote said the pension investment account assets are  sufficient to fund the change, effective as of January 2021.

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