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Council receives update on spending of ARPA dollars
Ceres city seal new

Members of the Ceres City Council received a progress report last week on how the city has spent the $11.6 million that came its’ way from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds passed by Congress in March 2021.

Strings attached to the funds require that dollars must be committed by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

The U.S. Treasury Department has ruled how ARPA funds may be spent, such as paying bonuses to employees who performed “essential” work through the pandemic; replacing lost tax revenue; on programs, services or capital project that responded to the public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic; on mitigating and preventing COVID; and investing in water, sewer and broad[1]band infrastructure.

ARPA funds may not be used to offset a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from a change in state law; cannot be used as a contribution to shore up pension funds; and cannot be used to pay down on debt service nor replenish rainy day funds.

Ceres Finance Director Leticia Dias said of the $5.8 million in the first round, the council has yet to commit $400,000. With the $650,000 committed to various projects which have yet to start, the city has $1,067,834 from round one allocation.

Of the $5.82 million from the second round of ARPA allocations, the city has committed $3.31 million with $2.51 million uncommitted. Combined with the $1.067 million available from the first round, the council will have to decide how to spend $3.4 million.

The council left the meeting agreeing to come up ideas for “wants and needs” projects to be considered after talking to city department heads. Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins – serving as acting city manager last week before the appointment of Doug Dunford – suggested the council take up the matter after the Fiscal Year 2023- 24 budget is adopted in June. A recap of projects funded by ARPA includes the following:

• An upgrade of the enterprise class wireless infrastructure at a cost of $55,000. The city’s wireless infrastructure is residential-grade and does not meet the city’s technology needs. The project is expected to be completed by December.

• Mobile data computers for police patrol cars at a cost of $65,000. The old computers were past their end of life and needed to be replaced. The project should be done by the end of the month.

• Cradlepoint wireless connection for patrol cars at a cost of $75,000. The cradlepoint wireless connection devices needed to be replaced due to the amount of data being pushed through by officers. The updated devices will provide the necessary bandwidth to keep up with the technology needs of the department. The project is to be finished this month.

• Surveillance cameras will be purchased and installed throughout the city to deter illegal dumping, vandalism and criminal activity for $100,000. The project should be completed by December.

• Expected to be completed by June is an upgrade of the police officers storage room and chief’s briefing room at a cost of $40,000. This would provide funding to replace wood shelving, secure area where duty gear is stored and update the chief’s briefing room.

• Also underway and expected to be finished next month is a $250,000 replacement of the Police building security system. The new system replaces one that is over 30 years old. The project includes a new card key system and replacement of all door locks in and around the building.

• To be delivered to the city by July is a critical incident response vehicle that cost $125,000 from the ARPA funds. The Police Department’s crisis negotiation team is in need of a mobile command post for incidents requiring negotiations before tactical teams are deployed. The department has the trained personnel to handle these types of incidents but not a mobile command post.

• The purchase of two speed display trailers (for $50,000) to be posted at locations throughout Ceres as a deterrent for speeding and reckless drivers when officers are not present.

• An upgrade of the Police Department gym room at a cost of $15,000. Outdated police department gym equipment has been replaced with newer, more reliable equipment.

• The purchase of mobile devices for social media public outreach at a cost of $7,500. This Police Department equipment is used by the social media team to take and edit pictures and videos for posting to social media. Previously the social media team used personal devices.

• The city is presently recruiting to fill a new position for code enforcement. The council allocated $500,000 to add one additional full-time code enforcement officer and two part[1]timers for two years using ARPA funds as well as equipment.

• Not started yet is the digitization of the city’s historic mandated micro[1]film at a cost of $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.

• In progress is to upgrade the Council Chambers’ audio and camera control upgrade and replacement of microphones to adjustable movable microphones at the dais at a cost of $15,000. The project is expected to be done by June 2024.

• The city has purchased sound equipment for outdoor events at a cost of $15,000. The previous system was old and not sufficient for future use. The sound equipment is used for Concerts in the Park, Ceres Street Faire, and all major city holiday events.

• In progress is the installation of landscaping, irrigation lines and sod for Ochoa Park at a cost of $400,000.

• Not started are additional trails and walkways for Don Pedro, Strawberry Fields and River Bluff parks at a cost of $75,000. There are currently no walkways that connect through the parks. Public Works Director Sam Royal said he doesn’t believe $75,000 will be adequate to do all three parks and will come back with a new estimate.

• The city has purchased a robot paint striper for soccer fields at a cost of $125,000.

Council members appeared confused about a prior commitment to spend ARPA funds on a recreational facility feasibility study. Vice Mayor Bret Silveira said he and Mayor Javier Lopez had two different ideas of what the study entailed, which Lopez rejected. Silveira said his idea was to study fees charged for recreational services being charged. Lopez suggested using the money instead to support Ceres Youth Baseball. Silveira wanted to keep the study.

Now freed up is $100,000 that the city intended to be used on the hiring of a temporary project manager to oversee the completion of the vast list of city projects.

In progress is an update of equipment for the Traffic Operations Center at $100,000 to be completed by September. It involves upgrading existing TOC equipment with latest technology including server, fiber optic terminal hub, program software and monitor unit.

Nixed by the council was a project to spend $400,000 cleaning of air ducts of city buildings.

The city purchased foggers and other PPE for $10,000.

Underway is the city’s street tree pruning program by grids since the council allocated $250,000 in ARPA funds for the work.

Also in progress is the maintenance of the lower terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, by the hire of new parks workers, to be completed by September.

Completed was a $90,000 upgrade of the emergency medical equipment on two fire vehicles to allow for advanced life support services when a paramedic firefighter is assigned. The equipment allows for a higher level of service and better response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Equipment also includes advanced life support monitors, airway equipment, and medications that can be utilized by a paramedic.

Dias reported that the city paid $750,000 in premium pay “bonuses” for “eligible workers performing essential work” through the COVID pandemic.

The city also has spent $200,000 to beef up the RAD Card program which allows shoppers to get matched, dollar for dollar, up to $100 to shop local. This program has been expanded to include businesses throughout Ceres, not just downtown.

To be completed by November is the $75,000 project to develop wayfinding signs directing traffic to 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.

Dias said she expects May 2024 to be the completion date of a $100,000 program to support local economic recovery efforts through grants, fee waivers/deferrals, and possibly other incentives to enhance the economic vitality of downtown Ceres.

Freeway orientation route signs are another project in progress to be completed by August.

ARPA funds also funded the military banner program to the tune of $20,000, $10,000 for the upcoming Hot Air Balloon Festival and $10,000 for the Ceres Street Faire.

Mayor Javier Lopez reminded the council that the street pruning program, code enforcement and the military banner program will be ongoing and run out of funds. ARPA commitments for code enforcement end in October 2024.

Second round expenditures

Dias gave the council a progress report projects earmarked from the second round of ARPA funds have been spent. The city used $1.1 million to balance the 2022-23 budget and $410,380 as a match to a state grant to improve Smyrna Park by June 2024.

The city also agreed to use $400,000 in round one of ARPA funds and $1,088,100 from round two toward the costs of completing Ochoa Park on Ceres’ east side. The city is adding that amount to $600,000 of park fees which were previously allocated to finish Lions Park. Ochoa Park improvements should be completed by summer of 2024.

Second round funds also gave city employees bonuses for working through the pandemic. That took a $750,000 chunk of the second round of ARPA.