Columbus has received almost $554,000 in reimbursement for COVID-19 related expenses on public safety, city Public Information Officer Joe Dillon told The Dispatch on Friday.
The $553,695.84 in funds, administered by Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), have been deposited into the city’s general fund, Dillon said. Mayor Robert Smith and city council members will decide how to spend the money.
Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, MEMA received a total of $70 million to help local governments cover pandemic-related expenses, according to the agency’s website. Governments had to apply before Oct. 15 and account for the expenses they sought to be reimbursed in order to receive the funds.
Dillon told The Dispatch the city submitted its application on Oct. 14 and asked to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in the city’s police and fire departments. The city had to shoulder additional costs buying personal protective equipment (PPE), provide training and afford overtime pay to first responders, he said.
“This is great news for our city,” Smith said in a Friday statement. “We made application early for these funds and our submission was approved 100 (percent). We have had ongoing expenses related to the COVID pandemic, and this is a great help to Columbus.”
Police Chief Fred Shelton said his department purchased air filtering machines for its officers, in addition to paying for PPE and other COVID-related expenses.
“We bought them equipment to help our officers breathe cleaner air,” Shelton said. “We had officers that had tested positive for COVID and had to be quarantined, so we (also) had to call extra officers in to come to work in their place.”
The additional cost put a strain on the budgeted expenses, he said, but he’s glad to see the costs reimbursed.
“If there (does) come a need where we have to serve the public more, we’ll have some more money to get more equipment to continue to do what we do,” he said.
There’s no set date on when Smith and council members will discuss the distribution of the money, Dillon told The Dispatch. The matter is not placed on the city council meeting agenda for Nov. 17 so far.
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens said the money is “wonderful” news to the city. Moving forward, he said, he would like to save the money and build up the city’s reserve funds.
“Don’t touch it,” he said. “We need to put it back into reserves and keep it there, because we don’t know what this pandemic is going to cause.”
Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard said he appreciates Mickens’ point, but the funds can also be used for street paving, boom truck purchases or solving the city’s flood problems.
“Half a million dollars stretch a long way,” Beard said. “I would strongly suggest putting it into the infrastructure of the city.”
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.