With the help of more than $1 million in federal relief funds, the city of Mitchell has been able to maintain some of its vital services throughout COVID-19.
Since the virus arrived in Mitchell in March, city departments and services have been awarded roughly $1.2 million in federal grants and relief funds to help the city stave off some of the revenue shortfalls brought on by coronavirus. The four city departments that were awarded at least $1,183,863 in COVID-19 relief funds are Mitchell Department of Public Safety, Mitchell Municipal Airport, Palace Transit and Mitchell Emergency Management Service (EMS).
The $1,050,840 in relief funds recently awarded to Palace Transit represented the largest sum of money out of all the city of Mitchell’s departments. Considering the volume of community members who rely on the city’s public transportation, Mitchell Community Services Director Jessica Pickett said it was great to see the federal government recognize its importance. It transports individuals to jobs and to meals, medical appointments, social functions and to schools.
When COVID-19 crept into Mitchell, forcing business closures and major changes in almost every industry in the city, Pickett said she was bracing for steep revenue declines. But the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March was specifically designed to provide economic relief for entities who were drastically impacted by COVID-19.
“It was really exciting when we found out,” Pickett said of the moment she learned Palace Transit was awarded the grant. “We didn’t know how we were going to bring in revenue when everything closed, and our ridership dropped dramatically.”
That was apparent in Palace Transit's ridership numbers. In the Palace Transit fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, the bus service was 27,446 miles behind last year's pace at the end of May and had 14,911 fewer rides than the same point in 2019. (Total ridership for the fiscal year was 44,449 at the end of May.) The service usually has more than 90,000 riders in a year and travels nearly 175,000 miles.
The federal funds allowed Palace Transit employees to hold their job and avoid unemployment during the pandemic, Pickett said, and will be allocated to help cover operating expenses and revenue losses caused by COVID-19.
“This also will be utilized to get personal protective equipment, and extra cleaning supplies that help us keep our passengers and drivers safe at all times,” Pickett said.
To help stock up on supplies and equipment needed for coronavirus responses, the Mitchell Department of Public Safety secured a $40,023 grant supported through the U.S. Department of Justice Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program, which Mitchell’s Department of Public Safety applied to recently. Mitchell is one of 14 government agencies in the state of South Dakota to be granted funds from the U.S. Department of Justice program.
The CARES Act also extended some relief to the Mitchell Municipal Airport, which was recently awarded $69,000. Airport Director Mike Scherschligt said the funds will help fix potholes and maintain parts of the runway. Mitchell’s airport was one of about 70 in the state to receive grant funds from the CARES Act.
Mitchell EMS, which runs the Mitchell Regional Ambulance Service, received just over $24,000 from the CARES Act, which helped provide equipment needed to combat COVID-19.
As a whole, South Dakota has received $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.