Everything new was old again, as the Sun Prairie City Council took a portion of its first meeting in 2021 on Jan. 5 to deal with an old subject: COVID-19.

Alders adopted a leave policy for city workers and approving an emergency carryover of a city fund designed to provide relief from COVID-19’s impacts.

The leave policy stemmed from April of 2020, when the federal government mandated a two-week paid leave program for COVID-related absences under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

City Human Resources Director Brenda Sukenik wrote in a memo that the act did not extend to “Emergency Responders” but when the city implemented FFCRA, it extended a similar paid leave program to these employees (two weeks but only for the employee’s illness or quarantine).

The federal leave program ended on Dec 31, but the city anticipates some city employees will continue to experience COVID-related absences beyond this date. Therefore, staff proposed the council consider providing additional paid leave in 2021.

“This is a new program for regular part-time and full-time employees (not applicable to seasonal employees),” Sukenik wrote.

Employees will fall within two paid leave programs, based upon job responsibilities — Emergency Responders and Non-Emergency Responders. The programs are effective Jan. 1, and available through the duration of the city Emergency Order.

Alders approved the leave program without discussion at the council meeting.

Relief program funds carried over

City economic development staffers sought a carryover of city emergency relief funds to assist local small businesses. The Small Business Emergency Relief program was designed to be a “last resort” type of program targeting businesses viable before the pandemic, but still in need of emergency financial assistance to survive impacts of COVID-19.

To be eligible, businesses must have 25 or less permanent full time equivalent (FTE) employees and demonstrate that they have applied for other funding sources or explain why they didn’t receive other monies.

The Oversight Committee granting the loans is comprised of one member of each board or staff from the funding entities. The role of the committee is to review and approve application materials and program guidelines, issue and review applications for assistance, approve qualified applications, oversee the preparation and signature of loan/grant agreement documents, and approve the disbursement of funds.

A total of $130,000 contributed for 2021 included funds from these entities:

Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce — $25,000;

Sun Prairie Downtown Business Improvement District $10,000;

City of Sun Prairie General Funds (proposed) $25,000;

City of Sun Prairie Tax Increment Finance Districts (proposed) $25,000;

City of Sun Prairie Tourism Commission $25,000;

Bank of Sun Prairie Sponsorship $10,000; and

Sun Prairie Utilities $10,000

The Oversight Committee hasn’t disbursed any funds to date, because many local businesses have commented that others sources of funding have kept them afloat. City Economic Development Director Neil Stechschulte said Dane County and Dane Buy Local on Jan. 5 announced a new round of $4 million in county funding to help locally-owned small businesses.

With the newest round of Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) funds pending, staff isn’t sure it will see many applications but are recommending keeping the funds available through at least the first quarter of the 2021.

“In addition, the other funding jurisdictions have approved with their boards the option use their funds as grant to a deserving business. If this would be the case, a separate grant agreement would need to be approved by the Common Council for the use of their funds,” Economic Development Specialist Taylor Brown wrote in her memo to the council.

City staff is preparing a template agreement with City Attorney Mark Leonard in an attempt to move a potential grant option forward more quickly should staffers receive an application that would fit the criteria.

District 2 Alder Bob Jokisch said he is glad local businesses have the option available to them, and was also thankful many businesses have received funding elsewhere.

Mayor Paul Esser said if the money doesn’t get used, that’s fine, but the city still has to get through 2021.

“There’s probably still a need for this,” Esser said, “it’s just that the need hasn’t come to us yet.”

At the end of the council meeting, District 1 Alder Steve Stocker struck a more optimistic tone while wishing all Zoom meeting viewers watching the meeting live on KSUN a happy new year.

“Hopefully,” Stocker added, “2021 is better.”

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