Manassas, Va. council approves $1.6M in CARES act spending

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Manassas City Council signed off on over $1.6 million in federal CARES Act funding for schools, airport services and economic development at its meeting July 22.

Schools in the city received just over $1.05 million of the city’s disbursement, with Manassas City Public Schools receiving $995,000 and private schools in the city getting $55,000, as mandated by the federal government.

According to MCPS Finance Executive Director Andy Hawkins, the range of uses for the money is relatively broad, and he said much would go to expenses for new online learning systems that took shape after schools closed in March.

“The money can be spent on a variety of different things, but certainly [include] costs that are directly related to the pandemic,” Hawkins told the council. That includes cleaning schools and facilities. “But primarily the money can also be spent on helping our families and our students to access the internet and have quality, high-functioning service to their home so that they will be able to participate in a virtual environment, if need be, for instruction.”

The council also approved up to $400,000 in funding for a new small business program being implemented by the city’s economic development authority. The program offers grants of up to $25,000 for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown.

Manassas Economic Development Director Patrick Small said that the grant application was open until the end of June, but so far about 100 businesses had applied for roughly $250,000 in total funding.

Small said $400,000 should be enough for all the qualified applicants. If the requests run over that amount by a lot, Small said the authority will likely implement a lottery system. If it runs over the allotted $400,000 by only a small amount, he may return to the council to make up the difference.

“In the interest of getting this money into the hands of small businesses that need it as quickly as possible, we’re … in front of you for the cooperation agreement,” Small told the council.

Vice Mayor Pam Sebesky cast the only vote against approving the $400,000, saying that it wasn’t the program that she was objecting to, but the ad hoc way in which the council, in her mind, was disbursing the roughly $3.5 million in CARES Act money.

Sebesky said she’d expected the council to have a work session on the matter, but that none had happened. After the vote, Mayor Hal Parrish told Sebesky he thought the grant program was important, but that he shared her desire to discuss the funding more broadly.

“Thank you, I asked for it two weeks ago though, knowing this vote was going to come, and it did not happen,” Sebesky said. “So I hope that the businesses know it’s not the agreement I have a problem with, for all I know they need more, which we can approve. But they may need less and we have not had the conversation about the CARES Act funding at all.”

Finally, Manassas Regional Airport received $157,000, the highest amount allowed by the federal government for general aviation airports, according to Airport Director Juan Rivera. The airport will likely use the money for payroll, Rivera said.

“This is the first grant we’ve received that could be used for operational expenses, which could be maintenance cost, payroll and debt service,” Rivera said. “In this case the staff recommended to the airport commission that we reimburse ourselves for payroll expenses.”

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