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How did local government spend federal CARES Act dollars?

By Jeri Chadwell

Part three: Sparks

This is the third in a three-part series examining how local governments spent federal Coronavirus Relief dollars.Read part one here. Read part two here.

The City of Sparks has spent the majority of its $19 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) money, delivered to local governments through the State of Nevada out of a $1.25 billion dollar pot of federal CRF funds delegated to Nevada. The CRF was only a small portion of the massive Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The CARES Act, passed in March, is the largest economic relief bill ever passed by Congress. At $2.2 trillion, it’s larger than Congress’s $900 billion second pandemic relief bill, which was signed by the president earlier this week, and the $831 billion stimulus act passed in 2009 in response to the Great Recession combined.

This Is Reno has had the opportunity review how the City of Sparks, Washoe County and the City of Reno have spent their respective CRF dollars through a three-part series. This is the final of those stories.

The City of Sparks’ Finance Department provided This Is Reno with the numbers below but also was clear that these “amounts are estimates only, as invoices are still being gathered and amounts are being tallied.” Like other local governments in the state, Sparks has some time to finish its accounting for CRF spending and report it to the state of Nevada.

Depending on orders from the incoming Biden administration and provisions of the next pandemic relief bill—which is not expected to include additional funds for local governments specifically—states and their municipalities may receive additional time for the spending and reporting of these funds.

City of Sparks authorities said they will “plan on providing the final numbers” to the public when they submit them to the State of Nevada.

How has the City of Sparks spent its Coronavirus Relief Funds?

The City of Sparks categorized its spending under two broad priorities. Costs incurred directly by the city used about 53% of the funds, and the remaining 47% went to community assistance. This Is Reno was able to look more closely at nine subcategories into which the money was divided.

This money went to fund payroll costs, including public safety costs “significantly dedicated to COVID-19 response and COVID-19 sick leave pay.”

As was the case with Washoe County, which allocated a lot of its funds to the Sheriff’s Department, much of this money was funneled to the Sparks Police Department. Spending on public safety was approved by the Trump Administration and Treasury Department, leading many local governments to dedicate significant funding to their police departments.

“We did have increased costs in public safety due to COVID-19. This is mostly due to staff being out because of the virus (testing positive, quarantining or helping loved ones) and overtime costs incurred to cover shifts,” said Sparks Community Relations Manager Julie Duewel in an email response to This Is Reno.

2. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—$1 million

This money was used to fund costs related to PPE, including “disinfecting and sanitation, enabling employees to work remotely, employee testing and treatment” and various public and employee social distancing compliance measures.

Tents were erected on East Fourth Street to serve as a temporary homeless shelter. Image: Bob Conrad

3. Aid for Unsheltered Individuals—$3.757 million

This allocation was paid to the City of Reno for costs related to the Nevada Cares Campus for homeless facilities. It represents Sparks’ share of $16.9 million “in total costs split between Sparks, Reno and Washoe County to assist our community’s homeless population.”

4. Housing Assistance—$1.452 million

These funds went to residential rental assistance and eviction mediation services. Of it, $1.409 million was paid to the Reno Housing Authority for rent assistance, and $42,500 was paid to Imperium Property Management and Consulting to provide rent and eviction mediation services.

5. Small Business Relief—$1.183 million

Like the City of Reno and Washoe County, Sparks dedicated some of its CRF money to helping small businesses facing economic hardship as a result of business closure mandates from Governor Steve Sisolak—and later mandates ordering limited capacity in businesses.

While Reno chose a local company—Audacity Institute—to manage the awarding of grants to small businesses, the City of Sparks had its processed through a company called the National Development Council. The National Development Council took a cut that is not to exceed $53,750—which amounts to a much smaller percentage of the total spending in this category than the 10% fee charged to the City of Reno by Audacity Institute.

6. COVID-19 Testing—$1.125 million

The City of Sparks contracted with local pharmacies to provide 9,000 COVID-19 tests. The money in this fund was paid directly to pharmacies. City of Sparks representatives said they could identify the pharmacy company “once certain approvals from the State are received.” This story may be updated with that information when and if This Is Reno receives it.

A drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Reed High School in Sparks. Image: Lucia Starbuck
A drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Reed High School in Sparks. Image: Lucia Starbuck

7. Regional Response Efforts—$900,000

This money went to “regional alternative care facilities and incident response costs.” It was paid to Washoe County, which has been managing these regional activities and “splitting related costs with the cities of Sparks and Reno.”

8. UNR Wastewater Study—$399,000

This study was done in a partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno, to “provide technology to detect SARS-CoV-2 at the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility.” The money was paid directly to UNR. The costs of the study—nearly $2 million in total—were split between the City of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County.

9. Food Assistance for Families—$233,000

These funds went to various organizations seeking to help people get enough food during the pandemic. It included $100,000 paid to the Moonridge Foundation on behalf of a non-profit organization called Delivering with Dignity. It also included $75,000 paid to the Northern Nevada Food Bank and $58,551 paid to the Washoe County School District’s Nutrition Services program.

What’s next?

The City of Reno, Washoe County and the City of Sparks have largely spent the CRF money allocated to them, and Congress’ proposed second round of pandemic relief funding does not include additional money for local governments.

For a time, it was in doubt whether outgoing President Donald Trump—whose term in office ends in less than a month—would sign a proposed $900 billion bill to provide additional pandemic relief funds to Americans. The president said numerous times that he felt proposed $600 dollar stimulus checks to individuals were inadequate, but, late on Sunday, he backed off of his threat to veto the measure.

Trump said he wanted $2,000 stimulus checks sent to Americans, and the House of Representatives passed a separate measure to approve that on Monday.

“We will hold a recorded vote on our stand-alone bill to increase economic impact payments to $2,000. To vote against this bill is to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny them the relief they need,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement last week.

However, the measure was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when it arrived in the Senate. For now, it remains to be seen if the average American will receive $600 or more than three times that amount.

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