GLOVERSVILLE – The mayor’s plan to spend $1.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan funding will keep the city’s focus on improving the quality of life by eliminating blight and helping neighborhoods, in part, with an environmental justice fund.
The Common Council last week voted unanimously to approve Mayor Vince DeSantis’ six-project plan for how to spend the COVID relief funding.
DeSantis’ plan includes projects aimed at tackling the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to reinforce policies DeSantis has previously initiated since first becoming mayor in 2019, including his administration’s war on decaying properties.
“This money is restricted with certain guidelines that were promulgated by the federal treasury,” DeSantis said. “What I tried to do when I drafted this plan was to include in there initiatives that we were already planning on initiating, and that we’ve been talking about.”
DeSantis said he received input from the New York Conference of Mayors and the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District, and both organizations provided feedback endorsing the spending plan.
“They said this is absolutely what the federal government wants to see, so it’s benefiting us, and it’s in compliance with the guidelines,” he said. “I’ve learned two good things about these ARPA funds. One is that these funds can be used as a local match to implement the goals that are in this plan, and so, even though it’s not strictly city taxpayer money, it can be used as our local match [for other state and federal grant programs]. The other thing is that interest [accrued from the] $1.5 million in funds is unrestricted [in how it can be spent], so it can go into the general fund, and also with respect to these different initiatives in the ARPA plan they can be interchanged. In other words, money can be moved from one to another. If we find one category needs more money, we can move it back and forth.”
These are the components of the city’s ARPA plan:
• $500,000 — to establish a fund to purchase vacant, derelict and/or tax-foreclosed properties from Fulton County, which is the foreclosing entity for Gloversville properties. This project continues a city program proposed by DeSantis in May and approved by the Common Council to purchase 10 foreclosed city properties from Fulton County for $145,404 in an attempt to keep them away from irresponsible land speculators who contribute to keeping the properties in a blighted condition.
In May the city formed its first Property Disposition Committee chaired by Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. — who is also the Republican mayoral candidate running against DeSantis in November — to sell the properties to responsible owners willing to pay at least as much money as the properties owed in taxes. They must also provide the committee with a plan for how they would rehabilitate the properties and sign covenants that enable the city to hold them to those plans. As of August, about half the properties have been sold by the committee, some of them for prices above what the city paid, meaning the program, as of now, appears to be on track to replenish all of the city’s cash investment in it.
In his proposal to create the $500,000 fund, DeSantis wrote that 24% of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, often in neighborhoods that contain marginally maintained or derelict abandoned properties. He said the city’s plan is to aggressively demolish properties that can’t be rehabilitated and to help facilitate a turnaround for the ones that can be saved.
“We’re taking control of that, and that improves neighborhoods,” DeSantis told the council. “Because of this [ARPA funding] we were able to eliminate $100,000 from the 2022 budget [proposal], which was something we’ve always put in there for demolitions, as an economic development [budget line], but we’ve got that in the ARPA spending plan now.”
• $250,0000 — to establish an environmental justice fund aimed at enhancements to the quality of the city’s neighborhoods, including remediation of hazardous or unsightly areas, streetscape restoration, street tree canopy improvements, new lighting, new curbs, new sidewalks, new bike lanes and other improvements to publicly owned spaces.
DeSantis said the ARPA environmental justice fund has helped contribute to spending reductions in his 2022 budget plan, which are part of the reason he has proposed a 50 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value tax rate cut that would lower the city’s rate to $19.45 — the lowest inflation-adjusted tax rate for Gloversville in the past 25 years.
“We were able to reduce by $50,000 the appropriation for tree work because we have this environmental justice portion in the ARPA plan,” DeSantis said.
• $212,508.28 — in direct reimbursement to Gloversville for actual monetary loss incurred by the city as a direct result of the COVID–19 pandemic.
• $200,000 — to retrofit to code an existing building in a central location to accommodate a large dormitory facility for homeless men and women.
“Once completed, it will provide safe, comfortable shelter for the population most at risk in the community,” reads the ARPA plan. “It will also enable the county Department of Social Services to provide emergency shelter much more effectively at a greatly reduced cost to the county.”
• $150,000 — to establish the first phase of a multi-purpose youth and family recreational facility near the center of the city.
According to the plan: “This could provide a well-supervised safe haven for children after school and on weekends. It would offer cultural programming, daycare services, homework support and athletic activities. This would provide a path out of poverty for the children of the working poor, giving them support and encouragement to build future success.”
The plan does not specify a location for the recreational facility, but DeSantis’ plan states the city has already established a partnership with the Gloversville Enlarged School District and “two faith-based organizations” to initiate this concept in an existing downtown location. The $150,000 is aimed at providing funding for two years of the city’s portion of the operating budget.
• $200,000 — to establish a “Downtown Ambassadors Program” as a two-year pilot project, with $100,000 in funding each year. According to the ARPA plan the Downtown Ambassadors Program replicates an existing program of the Schenectady City Mission and will operate as a public-private partnership between the Fulton County Department of Social Services, the Fulton County YMCA and the Gloversville Police Department.
“It provides respectful employment to recovering and at-risk men and women as city ambassadors,” reads the plan. “Employment as an ambassador is designed to instill self-respect, acceptance from the wider community and become a bridge to more lucrative full-time employment and permanent financial stability.”