Gilbert Town Council approves more CARES Act expenditures

Aimee Yentes
Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes voted against several spending measures at the Gilbert Town Council meeting March 29. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes voted against several spending measures at the Gilbert Town Council meeting March 29. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Gilbert Town Council moved at its March 29 meeting to use some of its unspent federal aid from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council took two actions using the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, approving both on 5-2 votes with Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes and Council Member Laurin Hendrix dissenting.

The first action was to approve a transfer of $2 million in remaining CARES Act funds from the town’s general fund to the self-insured health trust fund for town employees to help offset COVID-19-related costs and approve use of capital improvement program, or CIP, contingency to increase the claims expenditure budget by $2 million using the CARES Act revenue.

The second was approving a CIP contingency transfer, with CARES Act money as the designated funding source, in the amount of $1 million to upgrade the South Area Service Center Fleet Maintenance facility to allow it to property handle compressed natural gas, or CNG, vehicles for repair and maintenance along with other safety upgrades.

The modifications will mitigate the risk of explosion or fire due to leaking CNG, according to town documents. One of the proper uses for funding under the CARES Act was to support public safety measures.

Yentes said that while the money may be best spent in the manner prescribed, she believed the town should step back and take a look at what the business community’s current needs are before reallocating the money.

Yentes chaired the council subcommittee that, in working with the town’s economic development department and the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, came up with a three-pronged #GilbertTogether business recovery program.

The subcommittee allocated $18 million of the town’s $29.2 million from the CARES Act to #GilbertTogether. An additional $8 million went to public safety uses.

Economic Development Director Dan Henderson said the town has exhausted the $11 million set aside in business-relief grants that were the first part of #GilbertTogether and that the $2 million for technical training is still being used.

However, Henderson said the business-relief loans, which had $5 million set aside, did not prove as popular as originally thought with the business community, so money from that part of the program went unspent.

Council Member Kathy Tilque supported giving council direction to staff to revisit current local business needs for which remaining CARES Act funds could be used before voting to approve the proposed allocations.

Town employees inflation raise

Council also approved a 5% inflationary adjustment to employees’ pay starting in April. The raise is in addition to performance pay increases employees can receive at the start of the new fiscal year in July, but Assistant Town Manager Dawn Prince said the raises can be covered within the town’s operational funds.

However, when Yentes questioned how much the cost would be to the town, staff did not have the exact figure available.

The increase passed on a 5-2 vote with Hendrix and Yentes dissenting.

The raises were one of three actions council took to address recruitment and retention issues for town staffing. The others were using the CARES Act money to help offset health insurance premium increases and increasing the cap of vacation hours that can rolled over each year to 80 hours.

Prince said the town’s job vacancy rate is 11.7% with some departments having a rate as high as 20%.

Yentes said she would like to see more targeted solutions for the hardest hit departments, and Prince said more such measures would soon come before council.

Other actions

  • Council approved on a 5-2 vote receiving a $549,500 U.S. Homeland Security grant that has seven defined uses, mostly for one-time expenditures. Yentes and Hendrix dissented with Yentes renewing her philosophical objection to receiving money that increases federal spending.

  • Council approved on a 5-2 vote a change order to spend $91,539 for architecture fees on a public restroom at the Water Tower Plaza. Yentes and Hendrix voted in dissent with Yentes saying the money seemed excessive for a small restroom.

  • Council approved on a 5-2 vote a change order to spend an additional $343,000 on a project to bring Heritage District sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yentes and Hendrix voted in dissent. Yentes noted the project had come before council a few times before, and the current change increases the cost more than 48%. Senior Project Manager Rick Hooker said the town previously received no bids that were within the budgeted amount for the work and so only did a portion. Hooker said the town was now back before council to get money approved to complete the project.

  • Council unanimously approved a contract for more than $805,000 with Haydon Building Corp. to build a storm drain and make splash pad improvements at Gilbert Regional Park. In response to a question from Council Member Yung Koprowski, Hooker said the storm drain would address pooling issues by the volleyball court and the amphitheater where soil had not drained off water as well as expected, and that the splash pad would have a curb added to prevent runoff to a palm tree area that could kill the palm trees.

  • Council unanimously approved four cooperative public safety training agreements with agencies outside Gilbert. The agreements had no cost associated with them and were an agreement to do some training together, Police Chief Michael Soelberg said.

By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.