$180K emergency response grant funding needs to be allocated

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The deadline to spend nearly $200,000 in emergency services grant funding is almost up.

Winters City Council members discussed two grants totaling $180,000 that must be used by the end of October and December. City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa explained to Mayor Wade Cowan and the council that her staff submitted two applications for the California Office of Emergency Services in 2020 to fund an emergency generator at the new senior center.

“One grant was $80,000, and the other was $100,000, the logic being if both were approved, one grant could be transferred to the community center,” Trepa said.

The good news is Winters got both grants, but the bad news was that the construction of the senior center conflicted with the grant timeline requirements. So the council authorized a grant transfer to fund a community center emergency generator. 

In a large-scale emergency, the community center is an identified shelter location, according to Trepa, it has also served as a cooling center during extreme heat.

“Staff had already determined that the cost of installing a generator at this location would be approximately $145,000 because the electrical panel would need to be upgraded, so both grants totaling $180,000 would be 

necessary to fund this installation,” Trepa said.

Winters went out to bid, posting the project proposal on the city website, advertising in the Winters Express, and informed several plan rooms and trade journals to no avail. 

“A mandatory pre-bid two meeting was required, and only one vendor attended,” Trepa said of Ample Electric and their proposed bid of $277,527. “This cost far exceeds the $180,000 in grant funds secured by the city.”

Due to inflationary construction labor and material costs in the last two years and the timing of the grant requirements leave, officials with only one option, according to the city manager. 

“As a result, staff recommends that the bid be rejected, and this project be canceled,” Trepa said.

The cancellation leaves many unanswered questions. Mayor Pro Tempore Bill Biasi wanted to know where the rejected bid funds go. Trepa said the state and county approved repurposing the funds for other eligible emergency preparedness and response expenses.

“We are working right now with our public safety chiefs to identify some other potential projects like message boards, a portable generator that could be towed around and plugged in, and some additional radios,”  Trepa said.

Additional public safety radios would allow the Winters Public Works Department to effectively communicate with local and regional emergency responders in an event, especially an emergency. In addition, Trepa said other area cities used these funds for reimbursement regarding past emergency response expenditures, which could also be the case for Winters.

If reimbursement is allowed, “some of the projects may come back to the city if they individually have a cost over $20,000,” Trepa added, noting that the staff would submit any possible reimbursements to use as much of that $180,000 opportunity.

“I know these deadlines are coming up fast, so I just want to make sure we come up with a plan,” Biasi said.

Mayor Cowan agreed. 

“As long as we find other places to use those funds while they are available, we want to make sure to do that,” Cowan said.

Resident Tina Lowden was not as worried about the deadline as much as where the funds were going. 

“I am just curious during these very, very, very hot times that we have, did anybody go to these facilities to cool off?” Lowden asked. “Because most of us have AC anyway, so I am just curious, do we need it?”

Trepa said in extreme heat, Winters promoted the pool and library as cooling centers, opening the pool an extra day, waiving fees during peak heat hours, and keeping the library open longer. That answer led Lowden to question whether any funds would return to the upcoming Winters Senior Center or population. Lowden holds a seat on the Winters Senior Commission on Aging.

“They can only be used for emergency preparedness and response purposes, so we are looking for projects that would fit with that,” Trepa said, adding a senior center emergency generator will be supplied by an alternative funding source already earmarked. 

Much has changed in the last two years since applying for the grant, including another grant making possible a new City Hall generator, which allows for the large conference room on Abbey Street to be used as a charging center for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Co. during area-wide power outages. 

“In addition, PG&E has — as a result of rebuilding its facilities following the LNU Fire — separated the Winters core from the larger countryside grid so that it is less at risk for Public Safety Power Shutoff events,” Trepa said. “Therefore, emergency power at the Community Center is less of a public need.”

Resident Kate Laddish thanked the council for “continuing to keep an eye on this ball as it bounces around” regarding funding before stressing the importance of emergency backup power available to the senior population, those with disabilities, and “people who can’t get someplace else other than someplace local to cool down when it is too hot or warm up when there is no power.” 

“I just want to make sure that we keep that population in mind when deciding what to do moving forward,” Laddish said.

The city plans to continue offering residents cooling-off locations while using the funds otherwise. According to the staff report, there is no fiscal impact on Winters by canceling the project. The City Council could utilize American Rescue Plan funding to make the needed difference.

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