Nancy Edmonds Hanson
The city of Moorhead has received $3.278 million in federal funding to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. Now the staff wants citizen input on plans to spend it.
Government affairs director Lisa Bode told the Moorhead City Council Monday that the money – appropriated through the bipartisan CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act – can be used to respond to the pandemic emergency by addressing medical or public health needs, as well as providing economic support to those suffering employment or business interruptions. It covers the period from March 1 until Nov. 15; allocations must be made by the end of the year.
Bode said a committee of city staffers has identified seven areas where government has been impacted. A total of $1.278 million can be shared to ease these issues: Local match (25%) of FEMA-eligible disaster expenses; unemployment expenses; telework equipment and support for city employees; supplies, maintenance, cleaning and improvements in city facilities; election support for the upcoming primary and general elections; eligible public safety and health employee expenses, and public housing improvements.
The $2 million balance is earmarked to help with the recovery of local businesses and nonprofits. Downtown Moorhead Inc. executive director Derrick LaPoint explained the working group’s recommendations are modeled on the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grant rules; he noted that many businesses were ineligible for those funds because owners did not live in Minnesota. He added, “The last we’ve heard, the state has received 30,000 applications, but can award just 6,000 grants – including a total of only 267 businesses in the entire west central region.
Under the recommendations his working group is developing, businesses with fewer than 20 employees would be eligible for up to $10,000 in relief. Sole proprietors and independent contractors could receive grants of up to $3,000. Some nonprofits – those incorporated as 501(c)3 and 501(c)19 – are also eligible. He noted that new businesses open for less than 12 months (thus ineligible for state grants) will also qualify, and a portion of funds will be set aside for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses.
Acting city manager Dan Mahli emphasized to the council that community feedback is critical to firming up the plans. Residents, business owners who live in Moorhead, and owners who live outside the city are invited to complete an opinion survey to guide the council when it votes on the proposed expenditures at its next meeting Aug. 10. A link to the survey is on the city’s home page at www.cityofmoorhead.com.
Student art featured
Artwork created by students of Moorhead High School art instructor Grady Carlson will soon be featured on public facilities downtown and near the school.
The council approved the recommendation of the Arts and Culture Commission to proceed with installation of the original works submitted in the contest. Seven will be added to pedestrian benches along Fourth and Fifth Streets just north and south of Main Avenue. The other two designs will wrap the traffic signal control boxes that run stoplights at 21st Street and Second Avenue South near Moorhead High School.
City planner Kim Citrowske told the council that the process of selecting the art was complicated by the pandemic. Included as part of the city’s public art policy in 2018, the selections were made by the Arts and Culture Commission along with city staff and council member Larry Seljevold. The entries were due on the day before spring break; soon afterward, face-to-face meetings were halted. The rest of the process was completed with virtual meetings. Council member Shelly Carlson suggested that the young artists be honored, at least online, when the installations are complete.
The project’s cost of $3,707 is fully funded by the commission’s 2019 and 2020 budget.
Preventing future fires
Public works director Steve Moore updated the council on progress in putting out the still-smoldering fire in the compost area of the city’s landfill. The fire began Friday, July 17, probably touched off by spontaneous combustion in the 3.5 acres of partially chipped wood waste in the compost site; it had been reduced by 75% by last Friday. Moore said small areas of wood waste were still smoldering even as he addressed the council 10 days later, and may continue at a mild level for the next several weeks.
He pointed out that the fire in the over-filled acres of wood waste is precisely what his department’s budget request seeks to prevent by purchasing an air-curtain wood burner. The $172,000 equipment uses a curtain of air to burn the waste while generating a minimum of smoke. “When we have it in place, you won’t have a big pile of flammable wood waste just waiting to ignite, as we did this summer,” he promised.
Council member Chuck Hendrickson concurred. “Talk about making a case for the firebox air burner!” he said. “This is a perfect example of why it’s needed.”