With federal CARES Act funds waiting to be spent, Lewisburg City Council looked at park improvements, year-round restrooms, City Hall repairs, and broadband during a recent meeting.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 invested $2.2 trillion in keeping the United States running during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities in Greenbrier County were reimbursed by these funds as employees continued doing their jobs and the city spent money on public health precautions between March 1, 2020, and December 30, 2020.
For Lewisburg, the remaining $726,537.01 in reimbursement needs to be spent quickly.
“We have to have these funds expended by December 31, 2021,” explained City Administrator Misty Hill. “In the previous council, we were doing baby steps on expenditures. We had picked a few items and we were trying to get those closed out before we moved forward on other items. With such a tight deadline for [Public Works Director] Tony [Legg] and I, and the streets and parks foremen, we felt like it would [to] watch [the projects] closely on expenditures, … but be able to expedite this quicker than what we have in the past.”
Of the projects, many of the councilmember’s questions center on Lewisburg’s parks. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of estimated costs for different projects were included on the list.
“What we can [normally] do with our parks is based on coal severance and it’s very low,” Hill said. “Us to having that magnitude of financial backing, like the CARES Act reimbursement, won’t come along a lot of times. “
Some examples of park projects using CARES reimbursement are already complete. Hill also noted that some of the projects already completed have more improvements that could be made.
“[One was] the junior synthetic baseball field, which we completed last Wednesday,” Hill explained. “Another thing we completed was purchasing the player’s benches. It has been brought to our attention that we probably need to add two more benches to that, especially with going through the state baseball tournament. … A couple of years ago, we had baseball field lights put in. The poles are too short, so now the lights reflect in the children’s eyes in the outfield. … We are concerned about safety. This is a costly expense to upgrade this, it would be about $125,000. The good thing is that [the lighting fixtures] we used in the previous project … can go into our skate park and pickleball courts.”
The list of potential projects are:
— Skate Park Lights
— Walking Track Lights
— Ball Field Dugouts
— ADA Restroom for SB Field
— Player Benches
— Paving Equipment
— Winterization of Bathrooms
— Lights for Batting Cages
— Poles for Little League Field
— Mini Park (hillside) and shelter renovations
— Pickle Ball Courts
— Announcing booth windows
— Football equipment storage
The Parks Department is not the only place receiving funds. City Hall is on the list for a renovation, a generator, and a new phone system.
“Another thing we had talked about with CARES Act funding was the façade for City Hall, the repointing, recornering, … and repainting of the building,” Hill said. “We had our prebid meeting on Wednesday and Martin Schleiff [of Schleiff Construction LLC] is the construction company that will be doing the bid on the edge of the building. He is gathering all of his information to turn in what the projected amount is for what it would take to renovate City Hall.”
Allowing restrooms in the city to be open during the winter is also on the list.
“We are in the middle of ordering locks that we can set to [have the] doors lock at 10 p.m., they will automatically unlock in the morning,” Hill said. “That will help with the vandalism at night. Also winterizing them will give us the ability, especially downtown when Christmas shopping is open, [to have restrooms]. Once we shut those down, … late at night, there are no restrooms, so winterizing is very important.”
With all of the projects inbound, needed to be invoiced before the end of the year, city employees will be putting in more hours. Because CARES Act money is reimbursement funds generated by city work and workers, Hill wished to include hazard pay in the plan.
“In every meeting I’ve sat in … the first thing out of the gate is Hazard Pay for employees. CARES Act reimbursement was brought on and funded by employees working and being here. We would not be sitting on the reimbursement that we have if it were not for the employees’ dedication to be here. I applaud them showing up every day and going through what they did with COVID and the regulations.”
The total hazard pay, planned for September, is set around $1,600 for each employee, making sure that their take-home hazard pay is $1,500 apiece.
A final $100,000 has also been set aside for broadband expansion, but a specific project to fund has not yet been found.
“[We have] a placeholder for $100,000 for our broadband,” Hill said. “[Treasurer] Susan [Honaker] and I will have to call the state, we can’t expend on broadband right now. No one has a game plan right now. We have ideas but truly we have nothing set in stone to help with our citizens. With some of the ARC money, there are qualifications you have to meet and with those guidelines set, we don’t meet those as a city. I’m not saying that as a county we don’t meet those, but as a county we don’t meet those.”
Each of the projects over $25,000 are also subject to procurement regulations.
After the near hour of discussion and questions around the plans during a council meeting alone, not counting the efforts of city staff and councilmembers and Mayor Beverly White, council felt strong enough about the plan to put it in motion.
“I make a motion that we approve the use of the CARES Act funds, broken down like this: the Hollowell Park Approved Cares Act Plan of July 2021, the rough estimate for city hall for $300,000, the quote for the generator for … $47,000 even, hazard pay of $92,040.75 to be expended in September, and then the phone system [worth $12,000],” said Councilmember John Little. In addition, “put the approval [for the City Administrator] to spend this money in the beginning of that motion, then all the other stuff I said … This is taxpayer money, and if we don’t use it, we’re going to lose it.”
The council approved the plan on Tuesday, July 20, with all yes votes.
“Go make our city look beautiful,” Little told Hill.
“I’m trying!” Hill said through a laugh.
“I’m sorry, even more beautiful!” Little responded.