Schenectady

Mayor to meet this week with Stockade Neighborhood Association about $53M in coronavirus relief funding

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is shown in an Oct. 1, 2020, file photo.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is shown in an Oct. 1, 2020, file photo.

Mayor Gary McCarthy has scheduled the first of a series of meetings he’ll be holding with neighborhood associations regarding the city’s use of $52.9 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

The first will be via Zoom with the Stockade Association at 7 p.m. Thursday, according to its president, Suzanne Unger, while the second will be with the Upper Union Neighborhood Association at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 at a yet-to-be-determined venue, that association’s president Tom Carey said.

The American Rescue Plan Act includes $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and restore jobs.

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, recipients can use the money to support public health expenditures, address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers, and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

“The normal budget process in October will also stimulate some of this discussion,” McCarthy said, adding that the city, county, and school district have “all informally said we’d like it to be done in a coordinated manner.”

Using broadband as an example, McCarthy said, “We’re doing some of that stuff from the city’s angle, the school district also has broadband and wi-fi within their footprint. I don’t want to have to put a wi-fi access point out in front of a school building, where that building already has a perimeter around it, and the school district could work to make it available to residents or students.” 

Unger said that the Stockade has preliminarily prioritized traffic-calming measures, replacing sidewalks that she said have “horribly deteriorated,” and tree replacements, none of which she said are eligible under ARPA.
 
“What we’ve done is we’ve put out a very simple survey to our members just saying, how would you like to see the money spent, clarifying” the limitations on how it can be spent.
 
Unger said a major request of the association pertains to beefing up city staffing.
 
“We have no parks department anymore, and we really see the effects for that,” she said. “And we’d like to see improved code enforcement. We know that everything’s understaffed. The engineering department. If they could just get their staffing back up and put some more people in to replace the ones that they haven’t been able to hire due to the freeze, we think that would be a big step in the right direction.”
 
Unger added that she hoped for a transparent process in doling out ARPA funding. 

McCarthy had been subject to criticism by Council President John Mootooveren, who expressed concerns about the city “sitting” on the money.

McCarthy said he at first wanted to form the committee after Labor Day, close to his city budget presentation in October.

Carey, the Upper Union Neighborhood Association President, echoed Mootooveren’s sentiment, telling a reporter it was “about time” the city had begun to meet with the community regarding the near $53 million in ARPA money that was announced in March.

“The city’s clearly been slow to roll this out, compared to other cities in the area, and I have been pushing them for at least a couple of months now to get going, to be more transparent on what they’re doing,” Carey asserted.

Carey said his association had also observed that “maintenance and basic city services have fallen off” the last few years.

“Maintaining the parks, streets, sidewalks — especially sidewalks — and pedestrian and bicycle facilities, we’re way behind other cities on things like that,” Carey said.

Because the city falls in what’s called qualified census tracts, this gives it wider latitude for spending the money, said Carey, who added the association would encourage the city to use the money more creatively and broadly.

He mentioned childcare facilities in impacted areas, job training, a full-time senior center, and community meeting spaces, among other possibilities.

Carey said the city should also find a use for the casino building in Central Park.

“Why not spend the money to set that up as some sort of community center for different organizations,” he said.

McCarthy has said the city wants to direct the money to where it can make the biggest impact.

The mayor said the city had already conducted a community needs assessment, as well as a five-year plan for Community Development Block Grant neighborhoods that, while fairly comprehensive, don’t take into account the impact of COVID-19 and things to be learned from new census data.

McCarthy said the city wants to “put that money so that it’s going to have the biggest impact, and to be able to do it in a coordinated fashion so it’s not just the city, but the school district and county working simultaneously to leverage the resources to have long-term sustainable results that wouldn’t be obtained by actions by the individual ones.”

Schenectady ended the year with an $8 million budget deficit, and the mayor instituted a hiring freeze and cut non-essential expenditures as a result of the deficit. 

Of the ARPA funding, $8,922,680 has been designated as loss of revenue.

So far, the city council has allocated $233,000 of the funding, including $145,000 to the Boys and Girls Club, and $38,000 to the Fire Department (about $30,000 for medication due to changes on coronavirus protocols and $8,000 for cleaning trucks, offices and buildings).

Another $50,000 has been dedicated to the Police Department to hire retired officers to oversee COVID-19 protocols for entry to City Hall.

Eligible costs for ARPA funding covers March 3, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2024, with the city obligated to spend it by Dec. 31, 2026. Whatever is left over will be returned to the federal government.

The money can’t be used for debt service, pension plans nor directly or indirectly offset a reduction in net tax revenue.

School Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said he wanted to provide an update by Sept. 22 on using the school district’s $41 million during the next four years for programs and improvements to facilities.

Soler told the school board last week “this is a one-time injection into supporting our district and so we want to make sure we’re strategic on non-reoccurring expenses.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Categories: Schenectady County

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