BRISTOL, Va. — Bristol, Virginia businesses impacted by the public health pandemic could receive some financial relief from the city thanks to $1.46 million in federal CARES Act funding.

A newly appointed city committee is charged with developing plans and guidelines for how to spend the federal stimulus money issued in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The funds arrived June 1 and a committee that includes the city manager, chief financial officer, police and fire chiefs, sheriff and Community Development Block Grant funding coordinator held its first meeting Monday, City Manager Randy Eads told City Council earlier this week.

“These are one-time monies that are to be expended by Dec. 30, 2020,” Eads said. “We can only cover costs that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with COVID-19.”

To date, the city has incurred about $20,000 in those expenses and all city departments have been directed to submit proposals for using those funds.

“Eligible expenses are medical expenses related to the coronavirus, public health expenses related to the coronavirus, expenses substantially committed to mitigating or responding to COVID-19,” Eads said.

Federal officials didn’t provide substantive guidance, Eads said. Department heads are to submit requests for the money.

The Virginia Department of Health reported only four cases within city limits. However, many local businesses were required to close and residents were urged to remain home for two months unless making “essential” trips.

“We do have the ability to set up potential grants or loans for businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19,” Eads said. “We’ve already spoken with a few counties that are a few steps ahead of us with regard to receiving the funds and how they plan on distributing those funds and the parameters they have set up. We’ll be borrowing some practices from those counties to set up our parameters for our local businesses here in Bristol.”

CFO Tamrya Spradlin said one locality is placing all vetted applications from private businesses together and drawing them randomly to ensure fairness. Those are the types of issues the committee plans to discuss, she said.

The committee is expected to present its recommendations to the council in July.

“One aspect I’m really excited about is giving small business grants,” Mayor Neal Osborne said. “I think there need to be some guidelines and restrictions on who can get it, apply for it and qualify. I do think it will be a very beneficial program.”

Councilman Kevin Wingard also expressed support.

“I’m excited about the grant money for small businesses and I believe that we should be focusing on the businesses that were hit the hardest,” Wingard said.

“There’s a lot of things closing down that have no rhyme or reason as to why this one has to close and this one stay open. It’s more of that government picking winners and losers,” Wingard said. “If there’s grant money available for the ones that truly lost, they should be the first in line to receive these funds.”

The city’s fiscal 2020-21 budget proposes cutting 12 positions, including five current employees. In response to questions, Eads said the money can only be used for employee salaries if they work substantially on COVID-19-related issues. And the funding must be spent by Dec. 30, meaning the city would have to pay the ensuing salary of any employees remaining after that date.

“The economic development director position is no longer part of the [upcoming] budget. My thought would be to repurpose that position to respond to businesses with COVID-19 related items – push the reporting requirements and verify information on what was economic development. We may need another one; I don’t know how many businesses would apply,” Eads said.

He said the city will likely be audited to assure funds were spent correctly and could be liable to repay any funds spent incorrectly, Eads said.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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