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City looks to spend American Rescue Plan funds

 
By Amelia Blakely
Contributing Writer
updated: 1/24/2022 8:01 AM

The city of Carbondale is seeking ideas to spend a portion of the $7.8 million it received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed in March 2021.

According to a city hall press release, community agencies, organizations and not-for-profits can request ARPA Local Fiscal Recovery Funds by completing an online application. The application period is open until 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25.

Funds must meet local needs within four eligible categories.

Categories include replacing lost public sector revenue, supporting the public health and economic response to COVID-19, providing premium pay for employees performing essential work, and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, according to guidelines outlined by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The city is also accepting proposals for community projects that pandemic relief funds may support. According to the press release, project proposals must be submitted online through the project idea form by 5 p.m. Friday, February 25.

Carbondale residents can add input on proposals received at the city council meeting on March 8. The city expects to implement contracts in June.

At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, elected officials discussed the timeline for accepting applications and distributing funds, and the rationale for using a third-party consultant to manage the spending of ARPA money.

Councilwoman Ginger Rye Sanders said she received feedback from community members concerned about the resources spent on hiring a consultant.

"The money that we are spending and giving for services to be rendered by a consultant is money that could be better served by individuals who have agencies that serve those most affected by the pandemic," Sanders said at the council meeting.

The pandemic relief funding's short-term duration is the main factor for hiring an outside consultant because it would cost more money to add a staff member to manage the distribution of funds, City Manager Gary Williams said. Additionally, a consultant may provide more objectivity in reviewing applications.

"If the council wants to change directions and bring it in internally, we can certainly go that direction," he said.

Mayor Mike Henry said he likes the idea of an outside consultant.

"Mainly for the objectivity portion of it, and it will be more cost-effective," Henry said.

Williams said the city received two consultant proposals, and he will present the consultant proposals at the council meeting on Feb. 25.

Additionally, elected officials discussed opening up applications for new community agencies seeking funding from the city for the upcoming fiscal year. In some years, the city restricted funding requests to community agencies that already receive city funding.

Councilmen Jeff Doherty and Lee Fronabarger said they were not in favor of restricting who can apply for funding.

"These past 18 to 24 months have been a real crisis, so we need to open it up to other community agencies that may have ideas to help our community," Fronabarger said.

Councilman Tom Grant requested an inquiry into whether agencies that received budget cuts because of the pandemic can resume pre-COVID funding levels using ARPA funds.

Councilwoman Rye Sanders agreed and added that the council has a responsibility to serve residents who have suffered the worst during the pandemic.

Fronabarger said he thinks agencies should present last year's results and how they work to meet Carbondale's goals before the council decides on funding for the next fiscal year.

If community organizations want to apply for ARPA funding and funding from the city, they will need to complete two separate applications, Williams said.

The city opened applications for community agencies seeking city funding, according to a city hall press release published on Jan. 18. Community organizations can request funding through an application form online. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Feb. 11.