Leaders of local nonprofit organizations facing the threat of losing subsidy funding urged the City Council to reconsider their proposal to cut subsidy applications for 2021.
The council will make its final vote on whether to deny the subsidy applications at its next budget hearing on Sept. 21.
Nancy Wietgrefe, executive director of the Mitchell Area Safehouse, gave the council a glimpse of the financial hardships that the organization has been enduring through the pandemic, noting the loss of subsidy funds will put a lot of strain on the vital work the Safehouse has provided for the city and surrounding area towns. The Safehouse is an organization dedicated to providing services such as shelter for victims of domestic abuse and other conflicts.
Wietgrefe spoke during Tuesday's council meeting on the lack of opportunities for the Safehouse to host fundraising events due to the pandemic, which has put the organization in a bind this year. She emphasized the $10,000 in subsidy funds that the Safehouse was requesting from the city help support the services provided to domestic violence victims. Considering the spike in domestic abuse cases that have occurred in the midst of COVID-19, Wietgrefe said the subsidy funds are critical for the Safehouse.
“We tried to take all the steps that we could to modify our budget as well. We had eight sexual assault clients since May,” Wietgrefe said. “We work with your police department, and want to continue to do so. Domestic violence doesn’t stop for a pandemic. Even though we are a nonprofit, we are very different in what we do and who we serve.”
The council annually reviews subsidy applications submitted by qualifying nonprofit organizations in the city of Mitchell and decides on whether to approve the funds. While the council approved most of the subsidy applications that were submitted last year, Council President Kevin McCardle said the economic woes brought on by the pandemic played a primary role in the decision to propose denying this year’s subsidy requests.
Among the organizations that the council is proposing to reject subsidizing in the 2021 budget are the Prehistoric Indian Village, Mitchell Main Street and Beyond, Friends Foundation of the Mitchell Library, Friends of Firesteel, LifeQuest, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Dakota Counseling, Helping Hand Pantry, VFW Post 2750, Creative Force Law Drive, Mitchell Area Safehouse, Mitchell Municipal Band and the Exchange Club’s fireworks display. The combined total of subsidy requests that were submitted by the organizations in which the council is proposing to reject amounted to $181,750.
However, the Mitchell Area Development Corporation (MADC), Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the Regional Economic Development -- which are divisions of the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce -- are the organizations that are proposed to receive approval. Making up the majority of the subsidy requests is the MADC, CVB and Regional Economic Development, which comes out to a combined total of $447,000. Although the dollar amount of each group’s subsidy application varied, the combined total for all of the applications that were submitted to the city rounded out to $628,750.
Council member Susan Tjarks is pushing back on the proposal to deny the respective subsidy requests, citing the importance of the services that many of the organizations provide for the city of Mitchell. Specifically, Tjarks pointed to the Safehouse and Mitchell Main Street and Beyond as two of the organizations that she deems vital, emphasizing the loss in subsidies could put some groups at risk of staying afloat.
“I would like to see us grant some funding to those entities that spoke to us like the Safehouse. I have a hard time denying them $4,500 because I think that’s a really vital place for us to put our money toward,” Tjarks said.
Nikki Beukelman, interim Mitchell Main Street and Beyond director, highlighted the work that the organization provides for the downtown area. Mitchell Main Street and Beyond was created over a decade ago with the mission to improve downtown Mitchell and spur growth for local businesses.
Throughout the calendar year, Mitchell Main Street and Beyond hosts around 10 events, including First Fridays on Main and Wingapalooza. Tjarks highlighted how the events generate revenue for local businesses, sponsors and vendors, which she worries will be in jeopardy with the loss of $26,250 in subsidy funds.
“This money is important to us, because without it, we will not be able to continue making gains to improve and support our downtown area,” Beukelman said. “None of us want to see regression on our Main Street area.”
Beukelman pointed to the Forward 2040 community survey that revealed respondents view improving Main Street as the second largest concern facing the city.
Joining Tjarks in opposing the decision to deny the subsidy applications was Council member Dan Sabers, who said he supports approving all of the applications with the condition of equally reducing the amount of funds being requested by 25%.
“They are all great organizations, but I think we can reach an agreement to treat everyone equally across the board,” Sabers said.
Virus-killing air purification system
In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, the city of Mitchell will be installing a virus-killing air purification system to its city facilities following the City Council’s approval on Tuesday.
The air purification units feature a plasma-based system that has been known to effectively kill viruses, mold and other allergens, according to the documents provided by HVAC Elements, a Sioux Falls-based company that's been working with the city. Installing the air purification units to the respective city facilities will cost $200,000.
Among the city facilities that the air purification units will be installed at include the Department of Public Safety building, City Hall, James Valley Community Center, Mitchell Public Library, Mitchell Recreation Center, the Corn Palace, Mitchell Activities Center and the Indoor Aquatic Center.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson, a professional engineer, provided further details on the purification system. According to Everson, the same type of air purification units have been installed in health care facilities around the state.
“This will put a plasma generating system to purify air in pretty much every building in the city,” Everson said. “It capulatets them so it doesn’t get in your respiratory system.”
The plasma purification units utilize a “needlepoint bipolar ionization” that generates a high voltage field to create positive and negative ions, which travel through the air and target contaminants in the “air field,” according to HVAC Elements. The plasma air purification system units were developed roughly 11 years ago.
As of Tuesday’s recent update, the state Department of Health reported a total of 32 active cases in Davison County. With cases steadily increasing over the past several months, the city is deeming the installation of the air purification system as an “emergency repair,” which City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said will allow the city to install the purification systems in the respective city facilities as soon as possible.
“The emergency purchase allows us to proceed with the repairs immediately, and we could begin as early as a few weeks from now,” Ellwein said.
Council member Steve Rice wasn’t on board with declaring the air purification project an emergency, citing the lack of data that proves the air purification system kills COVID-19. HVAC Elements document stated the lack of accurate data for COVID-19 doesn’t allow for the company to clearly know whether the air purifiers kill COVID-19. However, the data provided to the city claimed the plasma units had a 93.5% kill rate for the Norovirus -- a viral disease -- over the time span of 30 minutes.
“If the supplier is not willing to comply with that it can kill coronavirus, why are we declaring an emergency?” Rice asked.
Considering the steady increase in case numbers being detected in Davison County, Council member Susan Tjarks backed the project being deemed an “emergency.”
“I’d rather we be proactive than reactive, so I support getting this done sooner,” Tjarks said.
To install the air purification system, the city will utilize funds received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, along with tapping into the general fund.