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Council allocates federal funding for virus-related response

Charlottesville’s City Council has directed more federal funding to support its response to the coronavirus.

The council conducted a first reading to appropriate $4.12 million in federal funding from the coronavirus stimulus package during its virtual meeting Monday.

The money was allocated to the city from the state based on population and must be used for direct responses to the pandemic.

The city will use $1.16 million for operational modifications; $825,000 for business support through grants; $636,300 for technology improvements; $654,000 for community support services; and $420,000 for employee support.

Officials plan to keep $424,476 in a contingency reserve.

“One of the challenges with this pandemic is it’s still happening and we have a long way to go,” said city Finance Director Chris Cullinan. “For an organization of our size … these funds are not going to go very far. They’re scarce and we need to make sure we’re thoughtful and diligent in the way we’re spending them.”

Any portion of the money not used by Dec. 31 must be returned.

City Manager Tarron Richardson said officials spent a “considerable amount of time” determining how to spend the money.

The support services include housing, meals and emergency financial assistance.

The money for facility modifications includes new air filters, ultraviolet lights, enhanced cleaning services, hands-free devices and social distancing measures.

The employee support funds covered administrative leave in May for a mental health day for staff and personal protective equipment purchases.

The technology money includes upgraded hardware and software used for virtual public and staff meetings, teleworking measures and cybersecurity.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker raised some concerns about the funds for operational changes and asked if some of that money could be reallocated toward community and employee support.

Richardson said the age of the buildings contributes to the higher costs and that the city is trying to ensure they’re safe for staff to return.

The city’s main structure on the Downtown Mall, which currently houses council chambers and administrative offices, was built in 1925 and expanded in 1967. The police department is housed in a connected building constructed in 1966.

Other city administration offices are in the adjacent City Hall Annex, built in 1992.

The council plans to conduct a second reading on Thursday, when it also will conduct a closed session to discuss Richardson’s job performance. The council has held several closed sessions in the past few weeks to discuss Richardson’s performance, and former Fire Chief Andrew Baxter resigned during one such session last week.

On Monday, the council also conducted a first reading to appropriate $80,761 received from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program. The money will be used by the Charlottesville Police Department for personal protective equipment.

In other business, the council passed an update to its taxi ordinance.

The update clarifies language about when drivers must register with the city. It increases the initial fee from $10 to $20 and the yearly renewal from $5 to $20.


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