At our last City Council meeting on August 17, 2020, the Council voted to rescind the local emergency order (LEO) that had been in place since March 23, 2020. During that time, the Council continued to meet on our regularly scheduled dates and times and had complete oversight on all City spending, contracts and other city operations.
Contrary to some beliefs, the Mayor does not have unilateral power to rescind the order or to make financial and other city related decisions. According to Minnetrista City Code Chapter 11 – Public Safety; Section 1100 on Civil Defense, the Emergency Management Director (Police Chief Paul Falls) is the individual responsible for developing, implementing and executing plans and decisions during a declared local emergency. All other decisions must be made by the Council as a whole.
So why was the local emergency order put in place? At the onset of this pandemic, no one knew what to expect. This pandemic is something we’ve never experienced before.
The LEO allowed both Council and staff the ability to remain flexible, not knowing what our course of action might be. Would we need to hire more personnel should some of our staff get sick? Would we have to spend large sums on decontaminating or disinfecting work areas? Would we have to pay overtime, especially in our police and public works department? These are some examples of issues we may have had to address quickly under an emergency order.
We also wanted to position the city as best as possible should FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) dollars become available. In order to be reimbursed with FEMA dollars a city (usually) has to declare or be in a state of emergency.
So what has changed? The Council feels that overall, even though the pandemic is ongoing, that we have figured out a way to operate safely for the benefit of both city staff and the public. Also, with the availability of the Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds in July, additional FEMA dollars will not be available for COVID-19 related issues for cities. So overall, the Council felt we longer have to be under an emergency order.
The State of Minnesota received $853 million in federal funding by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Part of the requirement for the State was to disburse a percentage of the funds to counties and cities. The Minnesota legislature decided to disburse 45% of the funds received and determined a per capita formula by which each county and city would receive their share. The City of Minnetrista received $579,000, based on our population (as of the last census).
The expenditure of these funds has been a topic of discussion at many of our recent Council Meetings. The federal guidelines are outlined in a 500-page document. In addition, there are State guidelines the city must follow. One of the “rules” is that the City Council as a whole – NOT the Mayor alone – must decide how these funds are used and must provide documentation and justification of what they are using it for. In order to make sure that the City is following the guidelines and using the funds in accordance with the CARES Act, we asked our attorney to provide his expert legal advice. He not only examined the report but has also consulted with other attorneys to get their interpretation.
So far, the Council has decided to hold off on making any decision in regards to the CARES Act funding. We hope to get more clarity on this in the coming weeks. If we don’t use the funds by November 15, 2020, they revert back to the county. I think it’s fair to say we would like to see these funds stay here to benefit our community.