Bozeman City Hall File

A group gathers in front of Bozeman City Hall on Nov. 12, 2020.

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Bozeman city commissioners have approved a plan that will distribute COVID-19 relief money coming from the state to local businesses and nonprofits, among other destinations.

The city is expecting to receive more than $5.4 million through the Governor’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is funded with money from the federal CARES Act. Half of the money will be allocated to local nonprofits, 10% will go to a city reserve fund for pandemic-related needs, and 20% each will go to a business support program and a city COVID-19 operations program.

The money is technically reimbursement for wage and benefit costs for public safety workers, assistant city manager Anna Rosenberry said. That money was already accounted for in Bozeman’s budget.

City manager Jeff Mihelich said during the city commission meeting that while some municipalities are holding onto the reimbursement money, he thinks Bozeman should turn it around quickly.

“Instead of taking that money and sitting on it, we should be pumping that money back out into the community to really deal with stressors already with COVID or to provide people with opportunity, like small businesses, to recover from COVID,” Mihelich said.

“I firmly believe we have a moral obligation to take that money and then use it for additional coronavirus relief.”

The city has already received two of the four expected payments from the state relief fund, Rosenberry said, totaling over $2.7 million. Though Rosenberry said there is some uncertainty with the program, they expect to receive the remaining two payments.

The 50% allocated to nonprofits is expected to be $2.7 million. Rosenberry said Bozeman nonprofits will be able to apply for the program through an online portal similar to how the city takes in grant requests.

Nonprofits have been left out of some of the federal stimulus and other COVID-19 financial programs, Rosenberry said, which is part of the reason the city is prioritizing them in the fund distribution.

“Fundraising efforts have been very disrupted by the pandemic,” Rosenberry said.

The estimated total of $1.08 million for the business support program will be administered by a third-party firm. Rosenberry said the program could be used for grants, loans or a combination of both. The details of how the program will work are still being determined and will come before the city commission for approval.

The COVID-19 city operations program will be handled by Mihelich, who said they’ve already heard a slew of ideas, like funding to provide closed captioning for the city’s virtual public meetings or to help provide child care for city employees struggling to balance kids at home with work.

Those proposals will be run by the commission, Mihelich said.

The 10% reserve fund, which will net over $540,000, is meant for future COVID-19 needs the city hasn’t anticipated, Rosenberry said.

“If you think about this pandemic, we hope to be moving soon into a different phase of vaccination processes, those types of things. And so there might be needs that we have that we haven’t even thought of yet,” Rosenberry said.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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