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Council Members, Administration Discuss ARP Funds

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of City Council and representatives of the administration of Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown met Wednesday afternoon as part of the ongoing process to determine how the city will spend its American Rescue Plan allocation.

The city was awarded $82.7 million in ARP funds and so far has spent or allocated about $27.5 million, according to the city’s website. That includes an allocation of $2 million for each of the city’s seven wards and $3.9 million for city revenue replacement.

Three ideas were discussed during the meeting that Fifth Ward Councilwoman Lauren McNally, who led it, characterized as a “working session.”

Among the items discussed was legislation council had requested from the law department to utilize ARP funds for parks, playgrounds and sporting venues.

Law Director Jeff Limbian said there were problems with some of the legislation because some of the documents lacked information the law department needed to vet the requests.

“You’re ultimately going to be making those decisions in terms of the appropriations but we wanted to make sure that there was a cooperative appreciation that the administration is going to have to actually administer those pieces of legislation,” Limbian said. “We wanted to have clear direction from you about what those pieces are doing so that they meet your intent.”

The law director also presented council members with a handout illustrating what other cities have done to draft requests that can serve as a “general guideline.” He stressed the need to remain consistent because both state and federal government will be auditing ARP spending to make sure funds aren’t misspent or misappropriated.

Among the items administration officials and council members also discussed was plans to utilize ARP funds for house repairs in the neighborhoods. Some council members have discussed wanting to do “some type of group program” utilizing a potion of their ward’s $2 million allocation, McNally said.
“So we thought perhaps we should discuss it as a group so that we had a holistic plan instead of us trying to do our own thing,” she said.

The city administration is “looking at housing initiatives as a whole,” Nikki Posterli, chief of staff to mayor Jamael Tito Brown and director of community planning and economic development, said.

“I don’t know what your plan is and how it fits into our plan. But we’re looking at the same thing,” she said.

“If you drive around, we have thousands of houses that are in a deteriorated state that people live in, so I think this is a moment where we have an opportunity to actually get through a lot of that backlog,” Ian Beniston, executive director Youngstown neighborhood development Corp., said. “There’s a huge need in terms of housing quality in the city, and the ARP funds are definitely something that we don’t get every year in terms of an opportunity to address it.”

During the meeting, council members expressed the intent that ARP funds be expended fairly so that everyone in the city benefits, a practice they argue hasn’t always been followed in the past.
“Historically, areas have been left behind,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Anita Davis said.

“The mayor is hoping to work collaboratively with you. So that when you say that you want something specifically done in your ward, that the administration will work with you to help accomplish that,” Limbian said.

“Because that’s been our history,” First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver responded,
“I’m sorry, Councilman, I’m not here to talk to talk about history. I’m just talking about legal process,” Limbian replied.

The other two proposals discussed during the meeting both involved potential vehicle purchases, a mobile community resource center and a mobile women’s pantry.

The community resource center could be used to provide shelter and services at a fire, crime scene or other situation, Davis said. It could be designed for use by multiple city departments.

Such a vehicle – initially proposed last year as a small unit for use by the city health department — was priced at about $170,000, Posterli Said.

That was before prices began increasing as they have the past several months.

“When we started talking more in depth at our ARP meetings, we talked about some of the uses that Councilwoman Davis described, so we decided to get a mid-version model might be more feasible,” she said. Those early discussions also took place before prices began increasing as they have the past several months.

The proposed women’s mobile pantry would distribute feminine hygiene products in low-income neighborhoods.

“I think it would be a big success,” city Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said, “The pantry doesn’t have to be a huge truck.”

Third Ward Councilwoman Samantha Turner proposed potentially partnering with entities that serve the same population, such as the Action mobile market, which the city allocated ARP funds for, and the Aisle one mobile market.

“So there may be some opportunities in one of those two spaces,” she said.
McNally asked Bishop to report back to council with cost estimates for the pantry.

The city’s ARP committee, which includes members of council, is still revieing the more then 100 applications submitted for funding, Postelri said. The hope is that the projects council members are proposing for their wards could align with other initiatives and funds could be marched to broaden the projects.

“But we need to be able to work together at some point so that were not simultaneously working on the same project with different pots of money that are actually the same,” she said,

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.