Johnson City commissioners to review $1.8 million in COVID-19 relief

David Floyd • May 18, 2020 at 11:05 PM

Johnson City commissioners will review about $1.8 million in potential funding intended to assist entities impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.

Of that money, about $313,560 was awarded to Johnson City through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act and can be passed on to agencies that support low- to moderate-income households.

The remaining $1.5 million would come from Gov. Bill Lee’s Local Government Support Grant, which the city plans to use to purchase a fire truck, 11 law enforcement vehicles and six school buses. The state earmarked about $1.5 million for Johnson City from a $200 million pool of grant funding Lee announced in early April for cities and counties burdened financially by the COVID-19 outbreak.

As part of the application for that funding, commissioners must formally request the money from the state. The grant funding cannot be used for recurring or personnel costs.

City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners during an agenda review meeting Monday that the city is behind on replacing fire department equipment and police cars. He added that the buses the city will be taking out of service are ones the state will be requiring officials to cycle out in the upcoming year.

Peterson said the city, which is currently navigating a challenging budget cycle because of a decline in revenues, has already built this request into its budget.

Peterson said the state legislators will be returning to Nashville on June 1 to continue to work on the state budget. He noted that there’s a projected $1 billion shortfall in next year’s state budget. He pointed out that the governor’s grant program totals $200 million.

“We’re going to make an application and we’re going to pray and be hopeful that it stays in the budget after the legislature deals with it a couple weeks, and if not then we’ll have to go back and amend our budget and either take fund balance and fund this equipment or defer this equipment for a year,” Peterson said.

Five local organizations requested a portion of the $313,560 in funding, which were awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Community Development Block Grant program.

Taken together, their requests total almost $750,000 and come from Fairview Housing (requesting $57,944), Frontier Health ($249,311), Johnson City Schools ($196,426), the Salvation Army ($146,238) and Second Harvest Food Bank ($100,000).

Staff has recommended that commissioners award $30,000 to Fairvew Housing, $67,272 to Frontier Health, $116,238 to the Salvation Army, $100,000 to Second Harvest and $0 to Johnson City Schools.

Commissioner John Hunter asked for more information about the recommendation regarding the school system's request, which would have gone to support school food services. Peterson said the school’s food services operation has a significant fund balance.

“This is a program for them to continue summer feeding, and the other requests are from service providers that deal with the homeless and the folks that are going through the food banks on a regular basis,” Peterson said.

Part of the school’s request, about $100,000, would have gone toward labor, Peterson said. He said the committee that reviewed the use of the funds based their recommendation on the fact that it’s difficult to justify spending that amount of money on labor when the rest of the organizations are delivering products to someone in need or buying equipment that allows them to meet that goal.

Assistant City Manager Bob Wilson added that the school system is also applying for a federal grant and is planning on including a request for food services.

“With everything that Pete mentioned and the grant, we just felt that while it was a fair request, a good request, the other requests were just a higher need,” he said. “A lot of those agencies don’t really have much funding source.”

The funding items are currently scheduled to appear on the city commission’s consent agenda for their meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday. Commissioners will be holding the meeting electronically on the Johnson City YouTube channel.

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