The City Council will consider a proposal Wednesday that would make a $500,000 pot of money available to respond to whatever the coronavirus may throw at Santa Fe next.
Examples of how the funds could be spent include providing food to the poor and what the city called "rental of alternative lodging" for at-risk homeless people. Other examples include transportation assistance for people who need to go to the doctor or work, childcare services for first responders and health care workers who have to report for duty and establishing mobile broadband hotspots for Santa Feans with limited or no wireless access.
"The priorities of the emergency response funding will continue to evolve as the coronavirus pandemic [impacts] our community and the needs of our residents change," Mayor Alan Webber wrote to city councilors in a memo requesting the budget amendment. "The expenditures will be focused on basic needs and critical safety net services for those immediately impacted by the pandemic who do not have alternative options for the services."
In addition to the budget amendment, the governing body also will consider extending the city's state of emergency by 60 days.
"If it does not adopt this bill, the governing body would have to meet every week in order to extend an emergency proclamation a mayor issues in response to a public health emergency or a pandemic," according to a fiscal impact report.
City Councilor Carol Romero Wirth, who is sponsoring the bill, said an emergency proclamation issued by the mayor is only good for three days, and the City Council can extend it an additional seven days.
"I think when those provisions were originally provided for, we were thinking about natural disasters," she said. "I don’t think anybody thought about our emergency powers with regard to a pandemic."
In these "extraordinary times," she said, the city has to be speaking with one voice and that voice is the executive branch of city government.
"We need the leadership to be focused on solving the problems that the virus is creating for the people of the community, not coming back to do this performa ratification every 10 days," she said.
The bill extending the state of emergency would also allow City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill to approve contracts of up to $200,000, not including taxes, during a public health emergency.
"One, this is temporary," Romero Wirth said. "Two, this is something that we've been talking about in a good governance proposal that Councilor (Roman "Tiger") Abeyta have been thinking about, and it's something that this crisis gives us an opportunity to pilot this kind of authority."
Currently, the city code limits the authority of the city manager to increase, decrease or transfer funds to an amount of up to $60,000. The proposal calls for LaPan Hill to provide the governing body monthly reports of all administratively approved contracts.
The bill would also give the city manager the authority to cancel meetings and "exclude or limit the public from in-person attendance at meetings" as long as people can "witness" the meeting by telephone, the internet or television "and provided that the meeting provides adequate means for public participation to satisfy constitutional due process."
The city has already taken steps in that direction. Wednesday's City Council meeting, for example, will be a "virtual meeting" that will be streamed live on YouTube. The agenda includes three public hearings in which people who wish to testify or make "petitions from the floor" on a matter not on the agenda have been instructed to call the city at 955-6520 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and number before 1 p.m.
"We will call you during the meeting," the agenda states.
An employee in the City Clerk's Office said about 3 p.m. Tuesday that no one had yet requested to speak.
While the governing body will hold a public hearing on the proposed extension of the city's state of emergency, the mayor's $500,000 budget request for emergency expenditures is scheduled to be considered without a public hearing during the council's afternoon session, which begins at 5 p.m.
The mayor wrote that the funds could allow the city government to provide direct services "or may be used to contract with partner nonprofit organizations who can provide immediate support to those in need in our community."
"At this time, the purpose of the fund is to address the most critical, immediate needs of the Santa Fe community through our non-profit partners," he wrote.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.