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City doles out $3.4 million in ARPA funds


 
BY CURTIS WINSTON
Contributing Writer
Posted on 3/30/2022, 1:36 PM

MARION -- The Marion City Council on Monday night approved spending plans for the more than $3.4 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, with the Boyton Street Community Center, affordable housing and community revitalization among the top recipients.

Boyton Street Community Center is earmarked for $500,000 for interior renovations, including new restrooms and the addition of a multi-purpose room, said Mayor Michael Absher.

Another $500,000 is set for a citywide affordable housing program, along the lines of Habitat to Humanity. Under that model, the funds could go a long way, Absher said. "Five hundred thousand dollars could serve to build dozens of homes," he said.

In all, there are 11 "buckets" that are to receive the $3,468,236 in ARPA funds, which are part of the federal government's stimulus plan to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the funds were disbursed last May, with the remainder due into city coffers this May.

A portion of the funds will go toward improvements on Tower Square, with $300,000 for safer outdoor gathering areas supportive of social distancing and outdoor dining. Concrete work and bollards will isolate pedestrians from traffic.

A further $500,000 is planned for revitalization of the Midway Court, Hendrickson and Concord neighborhood on the city's southwest side. The city has been purchasing aging vacant homes in that area and demolishing them, to open opportunities for new housing development. A second residential tax-increment financing district is also planned for that part of the city, spurring further development.

Indeed, later in the meeting, the council approved the purchase of six lots in Midway Court and on Hendrickson Street.

Other ARPA earmarks include $400,000 for improvements to the area around Fifth and West Main Street, where a new traffic light is planned, among other developments.

The new city hall in Tower Square's First Southern Bank building will get $300,000 toward an elevator compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Previously approved by the city council is a $200,000 grant program, which not-for-profit groups can apply for, up to $20,000. Further details of the grant program are available on the city's website.

And $50,000 apiece are allocated to Centerstone Church's Renew program and the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless.

The Marion Senior Center will receive $150,000.

And $250,000 is earmarked for hazard pay for city employees. Absher said the money received by city workers would be based on their average pay over the past year and would not exceed $1,000.

The mayor noted that as the city council contemplated spending the ARPA funds, federal rules kept changing, and that at some point only "essential" workers were due for hazard pay.

Commissioner John M. Barwick Jr. said he disagreed with that policy, which has since been revised.

"In my opinion, all our workers are essential," Barwick said.

What's left is $302,236, which will be retained in finance reserves, Absher said.

The council, with Absher, Barwick and commissioners Doug Patton, Jim Webb and John Stoecklin, voted 5-0 to approve the ARPA spending plan.