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Where have CARES Act funds been spent locally?

Cities, counties and school districts across the nation have benefited from federal CARES Act funds to offset increased costs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Though local officials said the CARES funds have been helpful in providing relief, some said they are worried moving forward whether there will be enough to cover increased expenditures tied to the virus. 

The following is a description of the expenditures by Albert Lea Area Schools, the city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County.

 

Albert Lea Area Schools

Total amount received: $1,716,000

(Of that, $1,031,000 has to be spent by the end of December)

  • $90,000: Personal protective equipment and sanitation items for students and staff
  • $178,000: Thermal scanners (one for each of the district’s buildings and two at the high school)
  • $498,000: Chromebooks and iPads. Jennifer Walsh, executive director of finance and operations for the district, said the district has had to accelerate its replacement cycle because of extra wear and tear on equipment during distance learning.
  • $118,000: Salaries for an additional licensed school nurse to help with contact tracing and two health clerks, paying current nurses for extra time spent on COVID-19 related work
  • $20,000: Total in stipends for COVID coordinators across the district. Walsh said there is a district COVID coordinator, along with a coordinator at each site. 
  • $122,000: Total pay for four full-time substitute teachers (one at each of the elementary schools)
  • $87,000: Speaker systems for 45 of the high school classrooms 
  • $27,000: Pay for a secretary for the Distance Learning Academy
  • $130,000: Cost of adding a second tier of transportation routes
  • $48,000: Cost of purchasing hotspots, as well as the monthly fees for those for families who don’t have internet access
  • $52,000: Software for distance learning
  • $120,000: Upgrading the district’s firewall

Total thus far: $1.49 million

Walsh said the district is also looking to hire four full-time paraprofessional substitutes in the coming days for when school is back in-person.

She said when she first heard the amount the district was going to receive in CARES funds, she thought the aid would suffice, but as the pandemic continues, she is unsure. 

“We are hopeful there will be additional funds to simply pay for things above and beyond what our normal budget would have covered,” she said. 

 

City of Albert Lea

Total amount received: $1.37 million

  • $220,000: Improving technology (including improving the audio-visual equipment in the Council Chambers, laptops for employees to use to work from home, software for staff working with building permits to work remotely)
  • $70,000: Personal protective equipment, including sanitizing equipment, hand sanitizer, masks, sneeze guards for various locations, improvements on indoor air quality
  • $226,000: Funds for the business assistance program with Freeborn County and Albert Lea Economic Development Agency
  • $58,000: Funds paid out for paid sick and family leave to employees impacted by COVID according to guidelines given
  • $790,000: Payroll for public health and safety employees 

City Finance Director Kristi Brutlag said as of now, the funding has been enough to cover the increased needs that the city has seen because of COVID-19, but it’s too soon to tell what will come in 2021. 

She said she thinks city staff did a good job of thinking about what would be necessary to protect both employees and the public, and noted staff worked hard checking with the city’s auditors and the state to make sure it was spending the funds on things that were eligible. 

 

Freeborn County

Total amount received: $3.7 million

(Unused funds have to be used by Dec. 1 or returned to the state)

  • $600,000: Personnel reimbursements for public safety, maintenance, IT staff and administration for work tied to COVID-19
  • $577,000: Reimbursements for public health work tied to COVID-19
  • $895,000: IT hardware (including accessories, laptops, docking stations to equip as many employees to work remotely)
  • $45,500: Personal protective equipment (including sanitizer, masks, shields)
  • $650,000: Funds for the business assistance program with the city and ALEDA
  • $175,000: Funds for nonprofit relief in the county
  • $26,000: Glass partitions between staff and public
  • $170,000: Building remodels, including at the Department of Human Services building, the courthouse and the highway shop 
  • $125,600: Three additional vehicles for the highway shop and maintenance staff. County Administrator Tom Jensen said staff were riding three people in a vehicle and could not maintain proper distancing.
  • $32,000: Aid to St. Theodore Catholic School and Hollandale Christian School for busing when the Albert Lea school district is on distance learning
  • $25,000: Fiber optic cable upgrades into the courthouse to accommodate increased internet capabilities for telecommuting
  • $50,000: Upgrading the sound system in two of the courtrooms
  • About $300,000: To purchase the new household hazardous waste building that will allow the county to continue its household hazardous waste collections
  • $90,000: Utility aid for county residents in cooperation with Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services through the Department of Human Services

Jensen said with many businesses having to close for another 30 days, he is hopeful to work with the city, ALEDA and United Way and come up with more relief to area businesses. 

“There’s businesses out there that are hanging on by next to nothing,” he said. “School districts, everybody’s at the door.” 

The county is waiting for the balances of any unspent CARES funds from the townships and cities in the county, and Jensen said he would like any extra funds to be spent on additional business relief, though nothing has been set in place yet.