Council Authorizes Mayor to Sign for COVID Grant

Belle Fourche News

by Beacon staff
Sept. 15, 2021

BELLE FOURCHE – The Belle Fourche City Council gave its unanimous approval to Mayor Randy Schmidt to sign documents for the city to apply for American Rescue Plan (ARP) COVID relief grants from the Federal government.

Specifically, the two documents are the U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds agreement and the Assurances of Compliance with Civil Rights Requirements. The funds originate as part of the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus packaged signed into law by President Joe Biden on Mar. 11th of this year.

It is not known how large the grant might be as the funding calculation is different than the first grant the city received in 2020 under the Trump administration. That grant, as part of the CARES Act, resulted in a $1.1 million sum being given to the city for use during the pandemic. Funding was based on the city’s population.

It is believed that ARP funding for cities like Belle Fourche will be based on city financial records. The city has had some difficulty transmitting information to the government’s ARP portal due to error messages and software issues, which federal officials say will be ironed out. Another uncertainty is the state of South Dakota is still awaiting word on ARP allocation formulas.

The CARES Act grant was receipted into the city’s general fund in 2020 according to Breanna Schaefer, City Finance Officer. It was calculated based on the city’s population.

“It provided us a cushion during COVID,” Schaefer told the Beacon. “But we were really fortunate during COVID when a lot of communities struggled because of sales taxes and things. But Belle Fourche is unique.”

Schaefer says the city has a diverse portfolio to base its economy upon.

“And I think that’s really what helped to keep our heads above water,” she said. “We have agriculture. We do have some tourism. And we do have a landfill and a liquor store, most municipalities don’t. Those things made it possible for us to operate in a healthy way. We didn’t have to make any drastic cuts.”

Schaefer also credited the citizens who she said rallied during COVID to shop locally and support local businesses. The city also did not issue a shutdown mandate during the pandemic, leaving it up to each individual business owner to make that decision. Another factor was a court ruling that went into effect last year that allows local municipalities to see online sales taxes come back to the city.

“That certainly had an impact,” Schaefer said. “A lot of people stayed home and shopped from home, using online platforms which the city benefitted from.”

If a resident of Belle Fourche made an online purchase and the merchandise was delivered to a Belle Fourche city address the city received a 2% sales tax from that item.

This year has seen the economic momentum from 2020 continue to grow. In July the city collected a record $534,194 in sales taxes. It’s the first time that figure had surpassed a half-million dollars in a single month. The third penny tax on hotels, alcohol and lodging also set a record.

“I think everybody just came out to play,” Schaefer said.

Even though 2021 will probably set an annual sales tax receipts record Schaefer cautions that the trend may not continue, especially considering all the stimulus payment spending among residents that happened last year.

“One thing I keep trying to remind people of, especially as we’re going into budget (season) is we’ve had a lot of stimulus funding, people have had cabin fever, those factors ramped things up quite a bit,” she said. “It’s great while we’ve got it for sure, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to sustain those numbers.”