WINCHESTER — City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to accept nearly $2.5 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF).

The next step is figuring out how to spend the money.

The state fund was created as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, which provided $150 billion in assistance to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to compensate localities for the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia’s CRF totaled approximately $3.1 billion, based on its statewide population of 8,535,519 residents. That does not include approximately $200 million in CARES appropriations that went directly to Fairfax County since its population of 1,147,532 was large enough for it to receive direct funding from the federal government.

Winchester has a population of 28,078, earning it $2,449,697 of the state’s total CRF allocation.

During a special meeting of City Council on Tuesday, Winchester Chief Financial Officer Mary Blowe said the CRF proceeds will be awarded by the state in the form of a Community Development Block Grant administered by the Winchester Economic Development Authority, which will be advised by City Council on how to allocate the money.

Blowe said Winchester’s CRF share can only be used to cover pandemic-related expenditures not covered in the city’s operating budget between March 1 and Dec. 30.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, CRF funds cannot be used to cover shortfalls in the city’s budget, but must instead be spent on pandemic-related necessities including COVID-19 testing costs, buying personal protective equipment, delivering food to people at risk of infection, covering expenses for distance learning and teleworking, sheltering homeless people and so on.

City Attorney Melisa Michelsen said it may be possible to use a portion of Winchester’s CRF money to create a grant for small businesses that have suffered due to the pandemic, or to set some of it aside for coronavirus-related expenses the city could incur later in the year.

Any CRF funding not spent by Dec. 30 must be returned to the state, Blowe said.

Interim City Manager Mary Beth Price said she and city staff will now create a spending plan for the nearly $2.5 million.

“Over the next couple of weeks,” Winchester Mayor David Smith said, “we [City Council] can provide direction.”

Attending Tuesday night’s special meeting of City Council, which was held via videoconference, were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, council Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, Corey Sullivan, John Willingham, Les Veach, Judy McKiernan and Bill Wiley.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

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