School tech and suffering businesses and residents are in line for shares of Hburg’s CARES funds

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

The plan for how the city might dole out federal COVID-19 relief funds continues to take shape, as Deputy City Manager Ande Banks told the Harrisonburg City Council in a meeting on Tuesday. 

Purchasing school technology for online learning, providing relief for local businesses and residents and covering some costs of delaying construction on the second high school are at the forefront. 

The council is expected to vote in an upcoming meeting on the spending plan for the $4.6 million the city is expecting to receive in CARES Act funds. 

The first draft of the spending plan includes:

  • $700,000 for city schools, in part to offset the costs of technology needed to implement virtual learning;
  • $600,000 for costs associated with the site work to pause construction on the new high school;
  • Additional grants for local businesses;
  • And funding for local nonprofits to provide city residents with “rental and mortgage assistance as well as food security and utility costs.”

The council plans to hold a work session to discuss in greater detail the spending plan before voting, but dates haven’t been set for that work session or the vote to approve the plan, although council members said they’d like to aim to finalize it in a month. The funds are intended to offset costs incurred directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic between March and December 2020.

New Sentara counseling center? 

Sentara RMH may have an outpost on Elizabeth Street — between Liberty and High streets — in downtown Harrisonburg in the coming years for counseling and behavioral health services, as the council discussed in Tuesday’s meeting. 

The council voted unanimously to approve a rezoning request and special use permit to allow an adjacent parcel on West Wolfe Street to offer parking for the planned medical offices. 

A representative of Matchbox Realty, representing the property owners, said they are “excited to have RMH as a tenant downtown and providing the services we need within the downtown community.”

N. Main sidewalk and S. Main trail extension

A number of improvements to city streets are also in the works, as the council voted unanimously to approve city staff to pursue grant funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation for seven different projects totalling about $20 million, including: 

  • Improvements to interstate 81 exit 243, including creating a double left turn lane from South Main Street onto the interstate;
  • Adding two new bus stops and three bus shelters on South Main Street between Mosby Road and Erickson Avenue;
  • Extending the Bluestone Trail, a shared use path, from Beery Road to the site of the planned second high school, which would create a continuous path to the school from Purcell Park.
  • And installing a sidewalk on North Main Street from Holly Hill Drive to Vine Street, for which the city previously sought funding but was denied; 

Tom Hartman, director of public works, said a dirt path worn along that stretch of North Main Street “shows us where we need to build sidewalks.” 

Council member Chris Jones said the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board’s facility — which provides mental health support — is undergoing an expansion.

“We need that place to be as accessible as possible,” Jones said, noting many clients walk to the facility. . 

Also in the meeting:

  • Jones, who also chairs the Community Criminal Justice Board, announced that the board was seeking more community members to serve on its committee for recidivism reduction.
  • Vice-mayor Sal Romero, who also serves on the Planning Commission, announced that the commission will soon have two vacancies and invited local residents to apply. 
  • City Attorney Chris Brown told the council that the department of public utilities intends to reinstate service cutoffs for delinquent accounts next month, which had been suspended due to the pandemic. However, businesses and individuals whose income have been affected by COVID-19 can still request a waiver on water, sewer and trash bills.
  • Banks, the deputy city manager, announced that City Manager Eric Campbell and staff are working on the next phase to reopen city facilities, He said City Hall and other facilities might re-open to the public in the coming weeks.

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