In order to reduce physical interaction between individuals in the era of Covid-19, local governments are using CARES Act funding to invest in better information technology.
Both the cities of Williams and Colusa have allocated funding on new phones, audio/video, or other equipment to better facilitate online communications between staff, elected officials, and members of the public.
Congress passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, and set a Dec. 31 deadline for the government to spend the money.
Williams received $69,000 from CARES, which they plan to spend to facilitate communication.
“We are gradually going to spend that money on phones and technology upgrades,” said Finance Director Rex Greenbaun.
About two-thirds of the money has already been spent, after Williams officials learned that the two new digital monument signs that were recently installed qualified for use of these funds.
Greenbaun said the project qualified for about $40,000 of the CARES Act funding, and that the city has another $22,000 to spend before Dec. 31.
Colusa said, a portion of their CARES funding will go to upgrade the audio and video in City Council chambers to better facilitate online public meetings.
In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom, on March 17, relaxed the Ralph M. Brown Act’s public meeting requirements by allowing meetings to be held by video, teleconference or other electronic means during the period in which health officials have imposed recommended social distancing measures.
For the most part, meetings of both local city councils, school boards, and the Board of Supervisors have been held using telephone or online platforms, such as Zoom, which have been particularly problematic for listeners due to poor audio quality.
While the Colusa City Council voted to spend most of their $71,000 in CARES act funding to help local businesses hurt by the COVID-19 shutdown, they did approve moving ahead with an upgrade of audio and visual infrastructure in council chambers to allow the public to hear and see online meetings.
Paul A. Santinelli Jr. offered his services at no cost to upgrade the city’s information technology infrastructure and audio visual system, if the city funded the equipment. The city anticipates the cost to upgrade the technology to be between $2,500 and $4,000.
City officials for Williams and Colusa said it will be increasingly important as the years go on to communicate with phones and computers, which will also allow staff to be fully functional when they are not in the office.
“Even though everyone talks about getting back to normal, we don’t know what normal is,” said Williams City Manager Frank Kennedy. “We don’t know what it’s going to come down to, so we are trying to position ourselves for that future.”
Local schools have also dropped some of their CARES Act funding into technology to boost online communication during the pandemic and in the future.
In addition to federal funding, California allotted $5.3 billion to K-12, largely to encourage districts to deal with the learning loss that most students experienced with the abrupt school closures in March.
Colusa County schools received in excess of $5 million total in CARES funding.
Williams Unified received about $1.9 million. Colusa Unified and Pierce each received about $1.7 million. Maxwell received $367,000 and Princeton received $174,000. The Colusa County Office of Education received $203,000. ♣