Schenectady

Schenectady to establish rescue plan funds committee; details still to be determined

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SCHENECTADY — The City Council on Tuesday agreed to create a citizen advisory committee to help decide how to allocate funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act, though details on how committee members would be selected has yet to be determined. 

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of establishing the committee in a straw vote during a meeting of the City Development & Planning Committee. A formal resolution creating the committee is expected to be approved by the full council later this month.

It’s unclear how many people would be seated on the committee or how those individuals would be selected. Council members are expected to gather a list of names of interested participants and discuss creating guidelines in the coming weeks.

Councilman John Mootooveren, the council’s majority leader, has already started the process, reaching out to Schenectady United Neighborhoods President Tom Carey as a way of gathering interested participants from each neighborhood association in the city.

The fact that names had already been gathered before the council formally voted to establish the committee didn’t sit well with Councilman John Polimeni, who said he had no problem with the public input when it comes to ARPA money, but took issue with the fact that other council members were working to establish a committee before the council agreed to do so.

He pointed to an email that circulated among council members with a list of committee members from Carey.

Polimeni was the lone vote against establishing the committee, a move he said he made out of principle.

“I have no issue with public involvement and the ARPA money — absolutely none,” he said. “However, this was decided before this meeting. … That’s just not right for any of us. I don’t care who you are, that’s just plain wrong.”

Council President Marion Porterfield said the email was a miscommunication and noted the names were gathered following prior discussions to establish a committee.

“A committee has not been determined,” she said. “Names have been submitted.”

The idea of establishing a committee dates back to last year, when the city hosted a series of community meetings to solicit input from residents on how to spend the $53 million in ARPA funding received under the $1.9 trillion law approved last year by Congress.

Residents repeatedly asked for a system to be established that would allow projects receiving funding to be reviewed by the public.

To date, the city has received just over $26 million in funds, with a second equal tranche expected later this year.

Millions have already been allocated, including $8.9 million the city claimed in lost revenue and more than $4 million in this year’s operating budget to backfill positions following a hiring freeze implemented by Mayor Gary McCarthy at the onset of the pandemic.

Money has also been allocated to the Boys & Girls Club and the city’s fire department to purchase new medication. The city is also seeking to spend up to $5.5 million of the funds to build a new Central Park pool, including $450,000 to hire an architectural firm to design the swimming facility, which is expected to be approved by the council later this month.

The city has just over $12 million leftover from it’s initial tranche of funding, leaving a total of just over $38 million to spend.

Funds can be used to fund a number of infrastructure projects relating to water, sewer and broadband; provide premium pay for essential workers; and assist those impacted by the pandemic.

An online application allowing organizations to apply for ARPA funding was open throughout December for money received under the initial tranche. The application process will open again once the city receives its remaining ARPA funds, McCarthy said.

More than 70 applications were received, requesting around $80 million in combined funding through the first round, according to Kristin Diotte, director of City Development.

Diotte said her department has been reviewing the applications to determine if they qualify for ARPA funding and has been working to identify other funding streams that may be better suited for each applicant, including Community Development Block Grant funds or a program administered by the county or state level.

The city is also still waiting to learn how much it will receive from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, that Diotte noted could also help fund some of the projects.

Porterfield said the committee would only review applications after they are vetted by the city, a number she expects to be far fewer than 70.

“Once we decide which applications will be considered, then the committee will review the applications,” she said.

It’s not clear when the citizen committee will be established.

The city has until the end of 2024 to allocate its ARPA funds and must spend the money by the end of 2026. Unspent funds must be returned to the federal government.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

Categories: News, Schenectady County

3 Comments

William Marincic

I hope they look at the upgrades that Schenectady municipal golf course needs while it is affordable before a major catastrophe with the irrigation system and it ends up costing 10 times as much.

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