SCHENECTADY — Months after an advisory committee was appointed to review dozens of applications from organizations seeking millions in coronavirus-relief funds, lawmakers are poised to finally begin reviewing the recommendations later this month.
The move comes after Mayor Gary McCarthy on Monday sought approval from the City Council’s Finance Committee to use a portion of the more than $26 million the city received last year as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to pay for a slew of projects, including $4.5 million for a new Central Park pool and programs to address housing and vacant property.
McCarthy urged lawmakers to advance the $8.3 million proposal, which would have used all but $2 million of the remaining ARPA funds the city received last year, citing timeline concerns, rising prices brought on by supply chain issues and inflation and a need to begin finalizing next year’s operating budget, which is due in October.
“As we’re going through the budget process, some of these projects I have to have some decision by the council so I know how much money we have or don’t have for some of these things going forward,” McCarthy said.
The proposal included $1.5 million to replace the irrigation system at the city’s municipal golf course and $150,000 for upgrades at Jerry Burrell Park. An additional $2.2 million was requested for a pair of programs that would help homeowners address code violations and to rehab vacant city properties.
A majority of council members were in favor of advancing McCarthy’s proposal, including John Polimeni, Carmel Patrick, Damonni Farley and Doreen Ditoro, but Council President Marion Porterfield and Carl Williams raised concerns about spending the money without first reviewing all projects eligible for potential funding.
“To me it would make sense to fund the projects,” Polimeni said. “These are projects that help everybody in the city. They’re also revenue-generating projects. They’re going to make various neighborhoods better with some of the housing aspects.”
Last year, the city received more than 70 applications from community organizations seeking over $70 million in combined funding for various projects to address needs like affordable housing and food insecurity. In April, the council appointed a citizen-advisory committee — months after agreeing to form the committee in January — to review the applications and make recommendations following a series of community meetings last year where residents requested to have a voice at the table.
Williams said advancing projects without first reviewing the committee’s recommendations would undermine the council’s original intentions and would disrespect the time those who served dedicated.
“I think I’d want to make sure that considerations were made to all the projects,” he said. “I definitely know there are a number of other interest items throughout the city and I’d like to make sure we’re given equal consideration.”
Monday’s meeting is the latest development in what has been a slow, months-long process to allocate ARPA funds, which has frustrated some lawmakers, who have faced pressure from community members to allocate the funds following months of inaction.
The city was awarded a total of $53 million under the American Rescue Plan, and has so far spent $16 million to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic, fill vacant positions and fund various youth programs. The city still has $10 million left to allocate from its initial funding pool.
A second $26 million tranche was received earlier this year, but the city has yet to spend any of those funds as lawmakers decide how to spend the remaining funds received last year.
It’s unclear when exactly lawmakers will allocate the funds.
The citizen committee completed its work weeks ago and the recommendations have been passed on to the city’s Planning Department, which has already reviewed the applications and made its own recommendations.
Several lawmakers said they have yet to review the recommendations, which Porterfield said would be distributed in the coming days to give the council an opportunity to review everything prior the the next committee meeting on Aug. 15.
“I just feel like we’ve been dragging our feet for months on this,” Patrick said. “It’s frustrating. And I think it’s frustrating to folks out there as well because I think we’re all getting calls and emails about what’s happening with the ARPA funding.”
The city has until Dec. 31, 2024 to allocate the funds and must spend the money by Dec. 31, 2026. Unspent funds must be returned to the federal government.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.