Alton prepares COVID-19 budget

The city of Alton is preparing to present their budget of COVID-19 related expenses to be reimbursed by the county.

During their Tuesday city council meeting, commissioners approved a proposed budget of $4,648,998, which covers COVID-19 related expenses such as payroll.

The budget came a week after Hidalgo County commissioners approved splitting $151 million in federal funds between all the local cities at a rate of $132 per person, with $18 of those dollars being held in reserves. With a population of 18,105, the city is expecting $2,389,860.

“So far we’ve used up $850,000 in expenses, we’ll be nearing the $2 million mark soon,” Underwood said. “Everything is on a reimbursement basis so we’d have to spend it, submit documentation to the county and they review it and if it’s accepted they’ll reimburse the city. If it is related to educating the people, enforcing the rules and keeping people safe during this pandemic, then it will be allowed reimbursement. I feel comfortable with what we’re submitting.”

Shortly after Tuesday’s meeting, the city of Alton received a draft of an interlocal agreement from the county on its reimbursement plan that Underwood said the city would go over in a later meeting.

As part of the proposed budget, $2.3 million are expected to be used for payroll expenses to pay administrative staff and police and firefighters. An additional $1.5 million will go toward facilitating compliance expenses, or expenses meant for distance learning and work.

“This is money we’d have to spend by the end of the year and proposed items include anything that will help us do things such as enforcing a stay at home order, hosting more virtual meetings, setting up a remote workstation, anything to do with compliance,” Underwood said. “All of those are allowable expenses.”

Most of that money will go toward improving the city’s free Wi-Fi which Underwood said has been experiencing several hiccups since last April when students began doing school work at home. 

“It was quite an issue, there were numerous problems as there wasn’t enough internet access for many people especially those in our community,” Underwood said. “We want to try to address that with a Wi-Fi project that would total $1.5 million and we’re hoping to work with the county on this.”

Underwood noted that though the county may not fully reimburse the city on its proposed budget, they had previously indicated they were willing to work with Alton on its Wi-Fi project.

“If we can’t get all of the funding we will have to work on cuts to the budget,” Underwood said.

The city is also budgeting to save $600,000 to be used on small business and a rent and mortgage relief program for citizens struggling to pay their rent and mortgages after being laid off due to COVID-19, Underwood said.

“It’s actually a recommendation from the United states Department of Treasury that we use 25 percent of these COVID-19 funds on economic development and mortgage assistance and at this point in time, it equals $600,000,” Underwood said.

Underwood added that the interlocal agreement the county will send will include all the appropriate forms to submit expenses to be properly reimbursed.

” If they feel there is a mistake the county can reach out to us so we can correct it,” Underwood said. “Everything we are spending that is being submitted is COVID related and as it is related to COVID, we are hopeful we will be reimbursed by the county. But until we see a check from the county, it is just a hope.”

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