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Pennsylvania City’s Request for COVID Relief Includes Tech

Scranton, Pa., expects $515,800 in additional pandemic-response expenses this year, including the anticipated $250,000 cost of transitioning to a hybrid cloud network that would support additional remote workers.

by Jeff Horvath, The Times-Tribune / July 21, 2020
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(TNS) — More than $200,000 for laptop and tablet computers and other technology to allow city employees to work from home.

About $28,000 in cleaning and sanitation supplies and services.

And $25,000-plus to prepare the former Serrenti Memorial Army Reserve Center to receive overflow coronavirus patients from local hospitals.

So far, Scranton has spent more than $309,000 responding to the pandemic. It plans to spend $516,000 more on its response by the end of the year.

City council will likely introduce legislation tonight authorizing an application for $824,553 in relief funding through the Lackawanna County COVID-19 County Relief Block Grant program. The funding would come from $18.9 million in federal coronavirus aid the county received to offset its own pandemic-response costs and those of its 40 municipalities.

Commissioners approved the $18.9 million COVID-19 County Relief Block Grant contract with the state Department of Community and Economic Development earlier this month. That money comes from the federal Treasury by way of DCED under provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed in response to the public health crisis.

County officials notified municipalities of the available funding in June and instructed officials to submit eligible pandemic-response expenses, including anticipated future expenses, for possible reimbursement. Officials in the county’s department of planning and economic development are reviewing the submissions for eligibility.

Most of the county’s 40 municipalities submitted expenses, many hoping to recoup money spent on personal protective equipment or to enable remote work, acting county economic development Director Brenda Sacco said.

“Scranton ... is definitely requesting the most (funding),” Sacco said.

Of the $308,753.23 in pandemic-response expenditures Scranton accrued to this point, the vast majority represent the cost of software and hardware allowing employees to work from home. The city spent about $219,395 on laptop and tablet computers, web cams, headsets, accessories and other technology, including remote support software and virtual private network, virtual meeting and cloud storage licensing, according to the application.

Scranton also spent $35,590.32 on personal protective equipment, $28,329.51 on cleaning supplies and sanitation services and $25,438 on plumbing and electrical work at the Serrenti building on Pine Street and Colfax Avenue. That work was to prepare the building to serve as a potential overflow site for COVID-19 patients if the local hospital systems were overwhelmed.

Specific line-item totals for each expense are included in the city’s request for funding.

Future costs

The city expects $515,800 in additional pandemic-response expenses this year, including the anticipated $250,000 cost of transitioning to a hybrid cloud network that would support additional remote workers. Scranton will need to buy additional software licenses and engage professional services to develop a functioning hybrid model and make that transition.

“Broadly we’re trying ... to improve the security and the technology of all of our systems,” Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti said. “But with COVID and having so much work from home (happening), it’s even more important that we make these transitions.”

Other anticipated future costs include $50,500 for additional cleaning supplies, $70,000 for additional PPE and $40,000 to continue sanitizing city parks, buildings and vehicles.

The county economic development department’s review of expenses submitted by municipalities and county departments is ongoing and Sacco said there’s currently no set date for when the relief money will be disbursed.

Cognetti called the CARES Act money the county will distribute “critical,” but noted it cannot be used to replace lost tax revenue or plug budget shortfalls at the local government level. She and other mayors across the state are lobbying the U.S. Senate to provide flexible revenue-loss relief funding in a future pandemic relief package. Council adopted a resolution earlier this month urging the Senate to do the same.

The pandemic and resulting revenue loss threaten to crater the city’s finances. The Pennsylvania Economy League, Scranton’s state-appointed Act 47 coordinator, shared projections earlier this month showing the city could face budget deficits of $3.61 million this year, $4.08 million in 2021, $5.61 million in 2022 and $8.1 million in 2023.

©2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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