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Council: Help for small businesses, infrastructure, mental health priorities for COVID funding
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The Turlock City Council continued discussion on Tuesday on how they want to spend close to $16 million the City is set to receive in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

In July, the City of Turlock was notified it would receive $7,867,595, which is 50% of the total award of $15,753,190. The remaining funds will be paid out in 12 months. Funds have to be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024 and expended by Dec. 31, 2026.

These funds can only be used to address specific areas, including: Supporting public health expenditures, addressing negative economic impacts caused by COVID-19, replacing lost public sector revenue, providing premium pay for essential workers and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The City Council members took turns on Tuesday talking about their individual priorities in an effort to find a consensus moving forward.

Mayor Amy Bublak said she wanted to see some of the COVID funds be used to help City of Turlock employees and their wellbeing.

“I ask that we invest in the development and wellbeing of our employees. I would like to set up some sort of live confidential coaching, both individually and team, and have measurable stats and data to let us know if we’re achieving that…,” Mayor Bublak. “I’m hoping this will help alleviate some of the stress.”

The Mayor also wants to support businesses that have struggled transitioning from a brick-and-mortar focused business to using technology to reach customers during the pandemic by hiring a consultant to lead trainings.

Councilmember Andrew Nosrati said he wants to figure out how to use the funds to spur affordable housing, invest into public parks and lighting and help small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“I want as much of this to go back out to our community as possible,” said Nosrati.

“There are neighborhoods that are severely underdeveloped that lack basic infrastructure that will never get the private market investment unless we figure out ways to spur them on,” he continued.

Vice Mayor Pam Franco cautioned the Council to not rush into spending the federal funds.

“This is a one-time funding thing. We have to be wise with this money. We don’t need to rush into spending it. We have plenty of time to allocate it,” she said.

Franco also wanted to see some business coaching for those companies struggling during COVID, street lights, as well put a focus on mental health services.

“We don’t have enough mental health facilities to help our citizens,” Franco said.

Councilmember Nicole Larson listed expanding the City’s economic development department, and “real” investment and improvement in Turlock’s broadband infrastructure.  

“I think if there’s one thing that the pandemic showed us was that it is absolutely vital to have reliable internet — from children to people who had to go back to work from home, to people trying to stay in contact with their loved ones…It’s no secret that Turlock does have a hard time in terms of having good service, regardless of your provider,” said Larson.

Larson agreed with Franco that investments in mental health services were also needed.

Councilmember Rebecka Monez said the funds should be used to help local businesses change their dynamics, not just give them a one-time influx of money.

“We can write checks all day long with these funds and dump it into businesses, but if we don’t change the fundamentals and foundations of our brick-and-mortar, when those checks run out…that’s a recipe for failure,” said Monez.

The City Council asked the City’s finance director and interim city manager to come back with requests for proposals for their consideration based on the priorities mentioned during the meeting.

The $16 million that the City of Turlock is expected to receive from the latest relief package is quite the boost from the $2.5 million it received as part of the CARES Act, passed last year. The City used the last round of funding to create a small business grant program and to support the County StanRAD card focused on the downtown area.