Safford council taking a wait-and-see approach to CARES funding

David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central. Safford Mayor Jason Kouts listens to input from City Council members on how to spend CARES Act funding during a council meeting.

SAFFORD —The Safford City Council wants a clearer picture of how COVID-19 might affect the city before spending money allocated by Congress.

During Monday’s meeting, the City Council directed staff to hold off on spending funds distributed to the city through the CARES Act.

“I couldn’t support what staff has recommended,” Mayor Jason Kouts said. “I feel that we need to hold tight and we need to see what the next few months happens (to bring). As you’re aware, every day — it almost seems like, but it’s actually not every day — we get a report of more COVID cases and or deaths.”

Staff reported the city is eligible for $1.15 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and proposed spending the money four ways:

● $260,000 be spent on the police station evidence yard and FF&E

● $23,000 placed in the Economic Development Fund to replace what was spent by the city for Gift Certificate Program

● $763,404 to replenish the Rainy Day Fund

● $99,710 is proposed to give city staff a $0.75 an hour raisefor all employees with two or more years of service, effective July 1.

That last items irked council members, who pointed out the council agreed to the raises as part of the 2020-21 budget, with half allocated July 1 and the other half Jan. 1, 2021, pending another council approval.

“The other half of this raise is tied to certain criteria that has to happen by November, or they don’t get a January raise,” City Councilman Steve McGaughey said. “If our economy hasn’t come back, we had all agreed that they weren’t getting it. And I think staff kind of jumped the gun, kind of in a, ‘I’m going to get my raise one way or another,’ and that come across right.”

City Manager Horatio Skeete explained that the amount each city could apply for is based on public safety costs and direct spending on COVID-19-related issues between March and December 2020.

Staff put in the request for the funding and is waiting to hear if the request was approved. The City Council directed staff to hold any funds received in reserve until a future date in order to assess the economic impact of COVID-19 on the community.