Mayor gets emergency spending power

Mayor Aaron Richardson will have the power to authorize spending for up to $250,000 for emergency costs related to COVID-19.

With the ratification of his declaration of an emergency from last week, the Common Council unanimously both granted Richardson the power to authorize emergency expenditures related to COVID-19 during its meeting March 24 and the budget amendment required to do so.

The budget amendment allows $250,000 from the city’s reserve fund to be spent on emergency costs including increased payroll for employees assisting the clerk’s office with absentee ballots, IT consultant hours to get city hall employees working from home and faster internet for those employees.

Five of the city’s eight alders attended the meeting in person, while the remaining three – Alds. Anne Scott, Shannon Strassman and Janell Rice – opted to attend via video conference, as did the majority of city employees who spoke during the meeting. It allowed the alders who attended in person to spread out and maintain the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines of being six feet apart from one another, for the most part.

The declaration also approved city administrator Patrick Marsh’s right to limit non-essential city activities to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Fitchburg has since closed its City Hall, senior center and the library, and committee, commission and board meetings will be cancelled during the public health emergency, unless Richardson deems any of them necessary.

Council meetings are considered essential to the city and will continue to be held the way the March 24 meeting was, with city staff and alders given the chance to call in.

With the budget amendment, a revised purchasing process for emergencies changes who needs to sign off on purchases. Normally, all purchases require approval by the council, but for emergency items, the mayor or the acting mayor would be the only one required to sign off on the item for it to be initially purchased.

If the item is not within the current operating budget, the council would need to pass a budget amendment for the purchase at a later date.

Richardson pledged to brief the council at least once a month on the emergency expenditures he approves, if not more frequently.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last, and we don’t want it to be two or three months, and have it be, ‘Oh, this is all of the stuff we did’ – that’s not right, either,” he said.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.