ASHLAND -- Because of $1.4 million in CARES Act funding, the city of Ashland is entering 2021 in “better shape” than finance director Larry Paxton predicted in summer 2020.
The city of Ashland begins the new year with $1,767,000 in its general fund, which compares to $2,025,000 at the beginning of 2020.
“While I was glad to see 2020 go away, I’ll be quite honest with you, I was glad to see it end, but we’re starting out 2021 in a much better position than I thought we’d be,” Paxton said. “We’re very fortunate to have had that additional funding… We’d have had a lot different conversation if this (funding) had not been available to us.”
Last year, the city spent more than $1.4 million in CARES Act funding, most significantly on items categorized as personal protective equipment (PPE).
The city spent $650,973.53 towards PPE, $547,372.31 in wage and benefits for the fire and police departments, $201,700 for small business grants and $65,131 elsewhere.
“We operationally left it up to the mayor and his department heads, with a focus on safety,” Council president Steve Workman said. “My biggest concern, as you could probably tell from my questions at the meeting was, are we going by the book?
“I believe and I trust that our decision makers in the operations of the city were diligent in their choices.”
Among the most expensive purchases classified as personal protective equipment were vehicles, including threeF550 Ford dump trucks at a combined $207,233, a F450 Ford dump truck at $64,062, an Explorer XLT at $40,250, a F-150 Super Cab at $33,285, a 2020 GMC SIERRA 1500 at $28,592 and a 2020 Ford Transit Connect at 24,983.
“We separated employees, so they’d be socially distanced and be able to ride in a separate vehicle,” Paxton said.
PPE also included an abundance of lysol,hand sanitizer, face masks and gloves.
“At the beginning, we had to close our offices for a while. We couldn’t get the supplies to protect ourselves or our customers to see us,” Paxton said. “We didn’t have a choice because we couldn’t get the materials fast enough.”
The supplies were quickly ordered, but some took months to arrive. He recalled how one case of Lysol took more than a month to ship and how the city had to organize returning a batch of recalled hand sanitizer.
The more than $550K allocated towards wage and benefits for the fire and police department was transferred in two amounts.
The city first transferred $286,372.31 in COVID-19 relief to offset the Ashland Police Division and Ashland Fire Department's pandemic-related costs at a November meeting. An additional $261,000.00 was allocated towards this cause at a December meeting.
"We have to spend it, encumber it or transfer it. If we do not do any of that today, we have to write a check back to the county returning these funds back to the county auditor by 4 p.m. today," Paxton said at the meeting where Council allocated the first amount towards this purpose.
Everything covered by the dollars had to be purchased and in possession by the end of 2020. It was challenging, Paxton said, to so quickly organize this.
“It was a regulation that we could… use some of our COVID money to offset the wages of our first responders in this pandemic,” Paxton said.
It was early into the pandemic that the city offered a grant program to local businesses. Through the COVID-19 Business Relief Program, the city gave away more than $200,000 to Ashland businesses.
Businesses that applied and qualified received up to $5,000. Forty-two local businesses received these grants. All but three received the full $5,000.
“Developing that program was a little enduring. Where do we stop? where do we start? Who is eligible? Who isn’t eligible?” Paxton said. “There were problems to solve before checks were written. Council and administration did a good job of developing that program, and we got it going quickly.”
Other expenses notably included technology and legal expenses.