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Council seeks public input on spending COVID-19 relief funds
Rebecka Monez public meeting
District 2 Turlock City Council member Rebecka Monez listens to public input on how to spend federal COVID funds during a meeting held Monday at Westside Ministries (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Turlock is set to receive the balance of nearly $16 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated to the City and members of the City Council are asking the public for input on how to spend it.

Unlike CARES Act funding, which was intended for local governments to use to respond in the short-term for COVID-19 response, American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used by the City to assist households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries negatively impacted economically by the pandemic. The City can also use Rescue Plan Act funds to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

The Council has already spent ARPA funds to help with staffing shortages in public safety and other City departments, incentivize locals to shop and eat local and, most recently, to create a business development and assistance program.

The Council voted in October 2021 to utilize almost $450,000 in ARPA funding toward some of the $1.59 million in budget augmentation requests including $158,577 to unfreeze one records technician and two emergency service dispatchers at the police department and another $265,965 to pay firefighers’ overtime and keep all four fire stations staffed. 

In December 2021, the Council approved $1 million in ARPA funding for the RAD Card program, and $115,000 to be paid to DMP for administrative fees to operate the program. The RAD Card, or “Relief Across Downtown” Card, is a digital gift card which was created by the Downtown Modesto Partnership last summer in order to reward community members for shopping locally during the pandemic. In the form of a cell phone app, the RAD Card program matches fund purchases of $25, $50, $75 or $100, which doubles a user’s money and can then be used in a city of their choosing.

Turlock is one of 19 communities utilizing the app and the first round of funds that came from the CARES Act were previously limited to the City’s downtown. The new round of funding, however, is not limited to downtown businesses.

On Jan. 25, the Council approved spending $481,338 of ARPA funds for a business development and assistance program with Opportunity Stanislaus. The program, called Rising Tides, will offer one-on-one business coaching, assist entrepreneurs in promoting their business start-up, growth and expansion, and provide assistance with technology to increase revenues and managerial efficacies.

Opportunity Stanislaus will offer these services, in partnership with the Small Business Development Center, from a new Turlock satellite office.

“We treat Turlock with a really solid splash, but what we’re talking about is providing a tsunami type splash in Turlock,” said Opportunity Stanislaus CEO David White. “It’s really upgrading from what we do to be able to provide much more impact and much more services than we have ever done in a brief period of time. I think that’s really important. I want to give you guys credit because you realize you could just go out and give grants to businesses and that would be helpful. But really this is all about teaching people how to fish and giving them the tools that will help them for long-term stability and viability.”

With a mandated expenditure deadline for the ARPA funds of Dec. 31, 2024, the City has to start making plans for the remainder of the balance.

District 2 Council member Rebecka Monez held two public meetings on Monday in order to gain more input on how to direct the remaining ARPA funding.

The first meeting was held at the Westside Ministries office on Columbia Street. Attendees of that meeting offered up ideas from expanding high-speed internet, to increasing bus transportation for school kids to creating a program through a local credit union to leverage ARPA funds for car loans, especially for individuals who wouldn’t qualify for low-interest traditional loans.

Two small business owners wanted to see any funding, like the RAD cards, be expanding to include all businesses and not just ‘brick-and-mortar’ shops and restaurants.

A recent Turlock transplant also suggested $500 monthly payments to low-income families, just like the City of Stockton.

At Monez’s second meeting, held at the Turlock Sikh Temple on 5th Street, attendees also wanted to see more access to high-speed internet, as well as mobile health clinics and additional services to help the city’s homeless population.

Monez said that the input she received varied greatly between the two meetings, showing how hard it will be for the Council to decide just where to allocate funds.

“I’m glad I had the meetings. We’re supposed to be spending the money on what our constituents want to spend it on,” she said.

District 4 Council member Pam Franco and Mayor Amy Bublak will host two more public meetings. The first will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Balboa Park Club Room, 1360 Shady Lane. Another public meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Turlock Transit Center, 1418 N. Golden State Blvd. The occupancy of the Feb. 7 meeting is limited to 22 and attendees will be welcomed on a first come, first served basis. All attending must wear a mask and social distance. For questions, call (209) 668-5540.