Members of the Ceres City Council last week mulled ways to spend $5.8 million coming the city’s way as the second round of federal COVID-19 relief money – mostly on projects that had nothing to do with the pandemic.
Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) in March 2021 which established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. The fund helps cities, counties and states with the pandemic recovery assistance and some kinds of infrastructure investment. The funds must be committed by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.
Ceres received $5.8 million last July and will get another $5.8 million in the coming July. The U.S. Treasury Department outlined how the ARPA funds may be spent, including offering premium pay for workers performing essential work, replacing lost revenue; for programs, services or capital expenditures that respond to the public health and negative economic impact of the pandemic; to mitigate and prevent COVID; and investing in water, sewer and broadband Infrastructure.
ARPA funds cannot be used to offset a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from a change in state law. They also cannot be used as a contribution to a pension fund for the purpose of reducing and accrued, unfunded liability. They also cannot be used to pay down on debt service nor replenish rainy day funds.
Councilmembers were presented an exhausting list of possible expenditures. Members offered cursory opinions about what they’d like to see funded but the decision will be put off until the Monday, Feb. 14 meetings.
Councilwoman Linda Ryno mentioned she’d like to see the city hire more personnel to eradicate blight and trash that has become commonplace in Ceres.
“People are choosing to dump in our city and we don’t have enough staff to go out and pick it up like we should,” said Ryno.
She also wanted to see the city beef up its tree pruning grid maintenance program that it scaled back due to finances.
While she saw a lot of great expenditures, she was concerned about the ongoing maintenance costs once they are built. Ryno specifically mentioned the idea of spending $400,000 to landscape, sod and install irrigation at Guillermo Ochoa Park and how the city doesn’t have enough parks staff to maintain the parks.
Vice Mayor Bret Silveira chimed in, saying former Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said grass at the new park would not place any undue pressure on existing staff. Ryno balked, saying the parks are not being maintained and that she has even pulled weeds out of the Doyle Cummings Rose Garden at Smyrna Park and at Sam Ryno Park.
Silveira said he wants to see Ochoa Park finished with grass. Ryno said she’d rather see the money spent on the development of Lions Park to serve residents in north Ceres. Mayor Javier Lopez and Silveira, however, commented that they would like to see grass planted in Ochoa Park.
Ryno said while a lot of small businesses were able to apply for COVID relief funds, she wants to see some of the money offered to bolster small businesses in Ceres “that have fought to stay afloat.”
Finance Director Leticia Diaz said she calculated that $3.6 million is being proposed for use by the city for revenue loss.
Commenting on the idea to spend $75,000 to place directional signage for visitors frequenting downtown, Lopez said he’d like to see the wayfinding sign program expanded to include directions to Smyrna and Ceres River Bluff Regional parks.
He also wants to see some money used of Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, such as lighting and field improvements such as nets; and also a restroom at Marie Neal Park.
Mayor Lopez suggested using some of the money to explore the renovation of the old Walmart building for some type of mixed-use sports complex, like indoor soccer and flag football field and basketball courts.
Lopez also mentioned coming up with a new marque welcome sign for those entering Ceres from Mitchell Road.
The mayor also wants to see some money spent on COVID test kits and prevention, such as purchasing technology to sanitize areas.
Silveira suggested spending $100,000 to recruit the four crucial department heads.
Councilman Mike Kline questioned the proposal to spend $150,000 to remodel the council dais, complete with new monitors and expansion of staff desks and programming changes to the controls.
Kline also disagreed with handing out more money to city employees because they showed up for work. The city already gave $750,000 in bonus from the first round of COVID relief funds.
Kline also supports more money to code enforcement to crack down on illegal dumping and blight.
Councilman James Casey didn’t comment about anything on the list but did say he feels more public input is needed before the council approves a list of expenditures.
The proposed list of expenditures is as follows:
UPGRADE TO AN ENTERPRISE CLASS WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE, $55,000. The city’s wireless infrastructure is residential-grade and does not meet the city’s technology needs.
MOBILE DATE COMPUTERS FOR PATROL CARS, $65,000. The mobile data computers are all past their end of life and need to be replaced. IT has developed a replacement schedule to replace the computers.
CRADLEPOINT WIRELESS CONNECTION FOR PATROL CARS, $75,000. The cradlepoint wireless connection devices all need to be replaced due to the amount of data that is being pushed through the patrol cars. The updated devices will provide the necessary bandwidth to keep up with the technology needs of the Department.
POLICE FIXED AND DEPLOYABLE LICENSE PLATE READER CAMERAS, $150,000. Provides funding for both fixed and deployable units for use at major intersections. The cameras would be placed at various intersections to monitor traffic related incidents.
PUBLIC SAFETY CAMERAS, $100,000. This would provide funding for cameras throughout the city to deter illegal dumping, vandalism and criminal activity.
POLICE BUILDING SECURITY SYSTEM, $250,000. The current security system is over 30 years old. This funding would provide for installation of a new card key system and replace all door locks in and around police building.
UPGRADE POLICE OFFICERS DUTY GEAR STORAGE ROOM AND CHIEF’S BRIEFING ROOM, $40,000. This would provide funding to replace wood shelving, secure area where duty gear is stored and update the chief’s briefing room.
CRITICAL INCIDENT RESPONSE VEHICLE, $125,000. The Police Department’s crisis negotiation team is in need of a mobile command post for incidents requiring complex negotiations before tactical teams are deployed. The department has the trained personnel to handle these incidents but does not have a mobile command post.
TWO SPEED TRAILERS, $50,000. Speed trailers are necessary to post at various locations throughout the city as a visual deterrent for vehicles driving fast and reckless when staffing does not allow an officer to be assigned to one specific location.
PARKING COVER RENOVATION AND EXPANSION, $325,000. The back parking lot, where the patrol vehicles are parked, needs to be expanded. The existing cover needs to be expanded to accommodate larger police vehicles.
UPGRADE CITY GYM FACILITY, $15,000. The police department’s gym equipment is in need of upgrading. Outdated equipment would be replaced with newer, more reliable equipment with this funding.
MOBILE DEVICES FOR SOCIAL MEDIA PUBLIC OUTREACH, $7,500. This request provides funds for equipment for the Police Department social media team to take and edit pictures and videos for posting to social media. Currently the social media team is using personal devices.
DIGITIZATION OF CITY’S HISTORICAL MANDATED MICROFILM, $25,000. Digitization of historical vital records from the city’s filing system is only available on microfilm (agreements, deeds, minutes, ordinances, and resolutions). This also includes the microfilm records from the community development departments (site plans, conditions of approval, permits and zoning maps 1966-89). Currently the public cannot access these records as the microfilm printer is nonoperational. This request would provide funding to digitize public records and make them accessible to the public.
COMPLETE COUNCIL CHAMBERS AUDIO AND CAMERA CONTROL UPGRADES, $15,000. Provides funding for upgrades and enhancements to the audio system in the chambers and replacement of microphones to adjustable movable microphones at the dais.
REMODEL COUNCIL DAIS, $150,000. Provides funding for installation of monitors at the dais and a remodel of the dais. Also provides funding for expansion of the staff desks and programming changes to the controls (one at the clerk and one at the dais) for chairperson and new chairs for the dais.
RECREATION SOUND EQUIPMENT FOR OUTDOOR EVENTS, $15,000. Provides funding for new sound equipment that will replace aging outdated equipment. Existing sound equipment is run down and not sufficient for future use. Sound equipment is used for Concerts in the Park, Ceres Street Faire, and all major city holiday events.
MEMBERSHIP BASED WORKOUT ROOM AT COMM CENTER, $20,000. This proposed project will allow and encourage more of the public to come into the community center and engage in a healthy lifestyle while at the same time a new programming opportunity for recreation. It will be a membership based program for the community to sign up for on a monthly basis. The proposed exercise room will include treadmills, Ellipticals, spin bikes, assisted lifting machines, stretching area, and some free weights.
OCHOA PARK IRRIGATION, SOD, LANDSCAPE INSTALLATION, $400,000. This request provides funds for landscaping, sod and irrigation installation and will create opportunities for increased programming at the park.
DON PEDRO/STRAWBERRY/RIVERBLUFF PARK ADDITIONAL TRAIL AND WALKWAYS, $75,000. There are currently no walkways that connect through the park. Adding additional walkways throughout the park would encourage more of the community to come out and use them as well as make the park more accessible and walkable.
RIVERBLUFF AND SMYRNA PARK SECURITY CAMERAS, $20,000. The camera systems at these parks are old, outdated or not currently working. Installing new cameras would help with security and safety for the community and park users.
RIVERBLUFF/ROEDING/STRAWBERRY PARK RESTROOM UPGRADES, $250,000. The current restrooms at these parks are dilapidated and need to be updated or replaced. This request would provide funding for the much-needed upgrades.
ROBOT PAINT STRIPER FOR SOCCER FIELDS, $125,000. Provides funds for purchase of an automated paint striper for the soccer fields.
TOUCHLESS CROSSWALK BUTTONS AT ALL INTERSECTIONS, $425,000. Provides funding to remove and replace existing pedestrian push buttons with touchless type on all crosswalks at 37 controlled intersections throughout the city.
UPDATE TRAFFIC OPERATIONS CENTER (TOC) EQUIPMENT, $100,000. Provides funds to upgrade existing TOC equipment with latest technology including server, fiber optic terminal hub, program software and monitor unit.
DOWNTOWN LIGHTING PHASE II, $650,000. Install decorative street lighting for downtown streets including conduits and conductors. This proposed phase II was not previously completed due to a funding shortfall.
CLEAN AIR DUCTS THROUGHOUT CITY FACILITIES, $400,000. Provides funding to clean all air ducts throughout City Hall, Police and Fire buildings, all Corporation Yard buildings, Sewer Treatment Plant buildings, Parks Department buildings, American Legion Hall and Community Center.
REPLACE HVAC UNITS - POLICE BUILDING AND FIRE STATION #1, $60,000. Provides funds to replace three aging air conditioning units at the Police Station and one older unit at Fire Station #1
FOGGERS AND OTHER PPE, $10,000. Provides funds to purchase foggers to sanitize all office areas and any personal protective equipment that may be needed to help combat COVID-19.
FIRE UPGRADE EMS EQUIPMENT ON FIRE ENGINES, $90,000. To purchase and upgrade the emergency medical equipment on two of the fire apparatus to allow for advanced life support services when a paramedic firefighter is assigned. The equipment would allow for a higher level of service to the community and better response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Equipment would include advanced life support monitors, airway equipment, and medications that can be utilized by a paramedic.
HUMAN RESOURCES PREMIUM PAY FOR ELIGIBLE WORKERS PERFORMING ESSENTIAL WORK, $750,000. For eligible workers including workers needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors.
COVID RELATED MANDATES AND HELP LINE, $150,000. For employee COVID-19 helpline designed to gather information from employees, provide guidance regarding COVID-19 protocols, collect list of other potential employee exposures, facilitate rapid testing at the worksite, facilitate PCR test, reporting of all positive tests and send results to the city. Staff handles these tasks currently and utilizing the help line will give staff more time to perform day to day tasks more efficiently.
TEMPORARY PROJECT MANAGEMENT, $100,000. To hire a temporary project manager to oversee the completion of the vast list of projects in order to complete the projects in a timely manner.
RELOAD RAD CARD FUNDING, $200,000. The Relief Across Downtown (RAD) card is a digital gift card dedicated to the small, locally owned businesses in the area. The RAD card program funding in Ceres has run out. This will replenish the Ceres funding to allow shoppers to load their RAD card and get matched, dollar for dollar, up to $100 and thus shop local. It is proposed that this program be expanded to include businesses throughout Ceres.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WAY FINDING SIGN PROGRAM, $75,000. Provides funds to undertake a program recommended by the CDRA Board to enhance the economic vitality of downtown by providing a comprehensive and consistent directional signing and identification signing for visitors frequenting the downtown business district of Ceres, including identification of key public facilities (such as City Hall, Library, Community Center, Whitmore Museum, Whitmore Mansion, Police/Fire Departments, Ceres High School, future ACE Railroad station, and public parking areas.)
ENTITLEMENTS ASSISTANCE/BUSINESS INCENTIVES, $100,000. Provides funds to support local economic recovery efforts through the form of grants, fee waivers/deferrals, and/or other incentives that enhance the economic vitality of downtown Ceres. Program to be developed and brought back to the City Council at a later date.
FREEWAY ORIENTED ROOF SIGN REPLACEMENT $5,000 Provides funds to take advantage of a pre-existing and vacant free-standing sign structure situated on the roof of the former Interstate Bank building in downtown Ceres by purchasing/installing a new sign banner covering to advertise “Downtown Ceres” in a manner that is visible to passing motorists traveling on SR99.
SEASONAL BANNER ENHANCEMENTS, $20,000. Provides funds to expand the existing downtown seasonal overhead banner program by adding complimenting banners installed on street lights on El Camino, Third, and Fifth, Lawrence and North Streets.