After receiving $111,333.68 from the federal government as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Wellston City officials are now exploring ways to utilize the funds.

These funds can only be used for COVID-19-related expenses and cannot be used for lost revenue. Further, the money must at least be encumbered by Oct. 15 or else it must be returned to the Jackson County Auditor.

During the Thursday night, July 16 meeting of Wellston City Council, Mayor Charlie Hudson stated the city had roughly $3,000 in actual COVID-19-related costs during the first part of the pandemic. However, he said the city accumulated upwards of $26,000 in unpaid water bills from March 1 to July 10, the date on which water service could again be discontinued due to non-payment, after such actions had been ceased as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Despite the fact that the city cannot directly use CARES Act funding to address these delinquent accounts, Mayor Hudson told Council he has been in contact with Jackson-Vinton Community Action, Inc. (JVCAI) Executive Director Cheryl Thiessen to explore another possibility. He said in exploring the various rules and regulations governing how the funds are able to be spent, he believes he discovered a way to grant the funds to other agencies like JVCAI, who could in turn use the money to pay the delinquencies.

“That would be $26,000 we could use,” Mayor Hudson stated. “I don’t want to have to give any money back.”

He stressed the fact that this option is strictly preliminary and that he is working with JVCAI legal counsel to ensure this can, in fact, be done. Mayor Hudson added that this action, if able to be brought to fruition, would not involve utility accounts delinquent prior to the health crisis. However, he said the city has received nearly $7,000 in donations from people wishing to assist those with delinquent bills, which he said is being put toward those bills not falling in the pandemic timeframe.

“I didn’t ask for it, but that’s what people did,” Mayor Hudson said. “One couple came down from Columbus and paid random water bills. I thought that was really cool.”

Another specific possibility mentioned for the CARES Act funding was that of a sound system upgrade for council chambers, as council has been broadcasting meetings throughout the pandemic.

Following is a breakdown of additional news from the July 16 meeting, including updates provided during Mayor Hudson’s report to Council:

* Council approved Ordinance 2020-35 in emergency fashion, authorizing the mayor to enter into the indigent defense contract with the Jackson County Commissioners so as to provide legal counsel to indigent persons charged with violations of the Wellston Municipal Code for the second half of 2020.

* Resolution 2020-36 received a first reading. This legislation authorizes the mayor to execute a five-year contract extension with the Wellston Historical Society for the lease of the Harvey Wells House. Law Director Randy Dupree informed Council that this legislation would need to be adopted sooner than the typical three-reading timeframe, as the current lease is set to expire soon. However, Councilman Anthony Brenner requested additional time to further examine the city’s involvement with this property, describing the homestead of Wellston’s founder as “an eyesore.” He suggested the city explore the possibility of removing itself from involvement with the property.

* Mayor Hudson stated representatives from the Make Wellston Beautiful group would be present for the next Council meeting (Aug. 6) for a “pretty big announcement” regarding some upcoming improvements in the area of the ball fields off of State Route 327.

* Wellston Police Chief John Robinson said the new cruiser ordered late last year is expected to be in the city by the end of summer. Further, he said a vehicle auction would be conducted at the city’s impound lot, which is located behind the former Millennium Telemarketing building at the corner of 10th Street and S. New Hampshire Avenue, on Saturday, Aug. 1. As the proceeds from these auctions goes into the General Fund, Councilman Tom Clark suggested the city look into possibly using those funds to expand the impound lot, thus creating the potential for additional revenue.

* With regard to code enforcement efforts, Mayor Hudson said the city is now in round three of grass-cutting and is just finishing up mowing the properties from round one. Thus far, he said the city has mowed 102 yards, adding that he is uncertain as to how much money has been recovered from fines and/or tax assessments.

* Finance Committee Chair David McWilliams stated that committee met just prior to the night’s Council meeting to discuss possible ways to procure the much-needed air packs for the Wellston Fire Department. More information is expected on this matter in the future.

* Planning Committee Chair Brenner explained his committee met to discuss the issue of business and contractor licenses. Mayor Hudson said the city is looking into requiring business owners to obtain a vendor’s license through the county, something he said all businesses are supposed to do. This, he said, would be the qualification for obtaining a business license in the city. As for contractors, Mayor Hudson said one thing that has been discussed is compiling a list for the public indicating which area contractors are bonded and licensed, and which ones are not. Brenner stated another meeting would be scheduled to discuss these matters further.