$67.3 million. That’s the amount that the Minnesota Department of Revenue sent to 3,891 Minnesota businesses through it’s initial round of COVID-19 Business Relief Payments. Part of bi-partisan legislation, the program provides direct financial relief to qualified restaurants, gyms, bars, and bowling centers who saw impact to revenue due to the pandemic. This was just one item of discussion at the January 25 Rushford City Council meeting.
Eligible businesses are required to have had $10,000 in taxable sales during 2019 and at least a 30% drop in year-over-year taxable sales for April to September 2020, as well as having filed tax returns for both 2019 and 2020. According to a letter from the state office, the funding also provided counties with the ability to set up COVID-19 grant relief programs.
Businesses that did not receive direct funding, but believe they qualify, or that believe the amount was incorrect, are encouraged to contact the MN Department of Revenue through February 5.
The council received an update from Rushford Fire Department Chief Chad Rasmussen regarding department status, plans for 2021, and equipment needs. The department saw two recent retirements, those of longtime volunteers James Dailey and Dennis Overland. This puts the department volunteers at 28 fire fighters.
“We’re an extremely young department,” said Rasmussen. “I think we’ve got our work cut out for us there.”
Several training events, both regionally and locally, were canceled during the last year and some are already canceled for summer 2021. Rushford training will resume soon. “We have to stay up to date on things and are following protocols to get it done,” he added. There was also no fall fundraiser or community open house in 2020. “I hope it’s something we can do this year. If not we’ll get through it.”
“As for needs, I think we’re pretty good or we were until the other day anyway,” said Rasmussen. “We need to start looking at a grass rig. The last three calls with that vehicle had to tow or push it back. We need to try to find a decent truck. It’s something we need to start looking at.”
When not being used for grass fires, the rig is also used for traffic control. “I was trying to push it out farther, but the truck broke down. We had to do some quick thinking to get around it. It’s done good, but it’s tired,” added Rasmussen. It’s estimated that a new unit will be $30,000 or less. “Hopefully it’ll come in less than that. We do have the funds,” he noted. “If we find one – a good deal, a good unit – they’re not sticking around long. What are your thoughts about how to proceed?”
City Clerk Kathy Zacher indicated there are three pots of money that the department can draw from for planned purchases and if the need arises: Mill Rate Fund, provided by cooperative agreement payments from outlying townships and cities that are covered by the department, Capital Projects, and the Fire Fund. “Where the greatest need is determines where to pull from,” added Zacher.
The council approved allowing the department to purchase a new grass rig, up to $25,000. This should cover the cost and keeps the amount under the limit required for a bid process, using written quotes instead. Some cost might be recouped from selling the current rig, as Rasmussen noted a few individuals have expressed some interest.
COVID-19 vaccination for the department is underway. The department had the option to get the vaccine and of 28 members, five are vaccinated. More are now available from the county. “I hope more get it, but I can’t force them to. I’ve done some more digging since the first meeting about it and I think people were just scared. I think enough have it now that they might be going the other way. I could see within the year, almost everyone doing it,” said Rasmussen.
“The vaccination goal nationwide is 100%, but 85% is the realistic nationwide estimation,” noted Mayor Terri Benson. That’s 24 of the 28-volunteer department. It was noted by Zacher that some of the department may be receiving the vaccine through their Rushford Ambulance service or other affiliations.
“I’m going to push them as hard as I can to do it,” noted Rasmussen. “I didn’t get it, but I am planning on getting it now. It’s hard to push them if I don’t get it.” Department volunteers go to Fillmore County to get the shot. While the shot is free, the city is reimbursing for the travel cost to get the vaccine.
The council also approved adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding with Park Rx American. The organization is working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to create a searchable database for health care providers. The goal is to easily access information on the amenities of suitable parks and green spaces where health care providers can prescribe outdoor time for their patients. The nationwide program has been very successful in educating providers about the “impact nature and outdoor recreation has on human health and wellbeing,” as noted in a letter from the DNR.
“If we close a trail down or add something new, it will let them know and will update the website,” explained Zacher.
“It doesn’t hurt to have our parks included,” added Benson.
“This is getting people out walking and moving and giving doctors another resource,” noted Councilor Sally Ryman. “Part of it might be what condition the trails are in for specific people. I’d encourage you to include the athletic field. The track is a safe place to walk. For people that don’t have balance issues, there are the Magelssen Bluff trail and city trails.” There is no cost to the city to participate in the database.
Review of the annual Lodging Tax Report was also conducted. Typically, the tax, collected by the city of all motels, hotels, and campgrounds, is utilized by the Rushford Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce for tourism and marketing needs. In 2020, revenue was down overall, due to the pandemic, but some locations did see increases as contractors and working people were brought in. The final amount is $3,883.34, down just over $1,000 from the previous year.
According to Ryman, the Chamber will be able to do the same amount of advertising, possibly more, in 2021 as is normal. Typically, the Explore Minnesota Tourism grant requires a matching amount. This time, the chamber wasn’t required to. “That makes up for a little bit of this,” noted Ryman. Additional follow-up crisis funding may be on the horizon as well.
The last item of consideration was the annual consideration of locally-grown flower baskets to line various city light poles. A proposal for approximately 100 baskets, at $36 each, with no additional costs for four baskets for the Rushford-Peterson Valley parade float, was presented to the council and approved. The Lions Club will continue to maintain and water the baskets and is looking for additional volunteers to help with the process or serve as back-ups.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, February 8, at 6:30 p.m., virtually via Zoom. While none on the council expressed concern of just the council and city staff meeting in person, city hall cannot safely accommodate members of the public with social distance guidelines. Both meetings in February will be held virtually. A decision on March meetings will be made at the second meeting next month. Meetings are open to the public and those wanting to attend virtually can contact city hall for information.