I-Team 8

Indiana city buys drone to monitor social distancing with CARES Act money

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Every city and town in Indiana received an allotment of the 2020 federal coronavirus relief money based on population.

Rushville, a city about 30 miles east-southeast of Indianapolis with a population of roughly 6,000, was given just under $200,000; the city spent $4,600 on two drones, one specifically to enforce social distance requirements in public spaces. 

The Rushville mayor, the parks director and the special projects manager showed I-Team 8 one of the drones the city bought with money from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. News 8 attached a camera to one of the drones for a quick aerial tour of downtown Rushville.

Brian Sheehan, the special projects manager, explained why the city believed a drone was necessary: “We were trying to figure out what are some things that we can use right now to utilize, to certainly serve the citizens better through our COVID response, but maybe it would have a use down the road as well.”

To buy a drone, Rushville officials had to submit an invoice to the Indiana Finance Authority. They are the gatekeepers for all COVID relief dollars spent in the state. The Rushville drone invoice for $4,657.55 was approved Sept. 24 and deemed an eligible expense for reimbursement from the Indiana coronavirus relief funds. The drone was to be used to observe social distancing.

Sheehan said, “We are trying to figure out how do we go after those dollars that are allocated toward us, so the very first thing was what do we spend that already fit that criteria, what dollars we have left, and then what things might make sense for us to go after.”

Rushville also followed an effort of many other cities and towns and put part of its allotment toward the expansion of WiFi in the city; the goal was to help kids without dependable WiFi turn in schoolwork.

Rushville also had a portion of its public safety salaries covered by the coronavirus relief funds.

Buying the drone was a expense they turned in later, to replace one that had been damaged. City officials have used the drone at least once to monitor social distancing at a summer event. The drone flew over a city park instead of sending police and other public safety professionals to monitor the crowd.

However, the rules of allowable expenses now have changed. Initially, at the onset of the pandemic, the money was supposed to be used for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and expenses to quarantine employees and facilitate remote working. The U.S. Treasury Department in the fall eased the rules to allow for equipment purchases, including drones.

As of Thursday, Hoosier cities and town have spent more than $297 million from the Indiana coronavirus relief fund. The Indiana State Board of Accounts is scheduled to audit every single invoice and track all the money.