SCHENECTADY — Two weeks after tabling a discussion on how to spend millions in coronavirus-relief funds, the Schenectady City Council will again address the subject on Monday.
The discussion comes after Mayor Gary McCarthy, citing concerns related to next year’s operating budget, sought council approval earlier this month to spend just over $8.3 million the city received under the American Rescue Plan Act to fund various recreation upgrades, including a new $4.5 million swimming pool in Central Park, and $2.2 million for housing projects throughout the city.
A majority of the Council was in favor of pushing the proposal through, but the request failed to make it out of subcommittee after Councilman Carl Williams voiced concerns about allocating the money without first reviewing the 70 applications the city collected last year from organizations seeking a portion of the $53 million in federal funds. Council President Marion Porterfield, raised similar concerns.
The American Rescue Plan Act was approved by Congress last year and allocated billions to local governments to aid in pandemic recovery efforts and help fund certain infrastructure upgrades, as well as address concerns relating to public health.
Funds were paid out in two equal tranches, with the city receiving an initial $26 million last year, and the second earlier this spring.
So far, the city has spent just over $16 million, including $8.9 million to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic, $6 million for job retention and $300,000 to fund a summer youth employment program. A total of $450,000 was allocated to design a new Central Park pool. The remaining $233,000 funded a youth engagement program through the Boys & Girls Club, and paid for necessary COVID protocols at City Hall and the fire department.
McCarthy’s proposal, which included $1.5 million for new irrigation at the municipal golf course and $150,000 for upgrades at Jerry Burrell Park, would have used more than 80% of remaining funds from the city’s initial tranche, leaving just around $2 million left to spend. The city has yet to allocate any funds from the second $26 million received earlier this year.
In January, council members agreed to establish a citizen advisory committee to review dozens of applications from organizations seeking more than $70 million in ARPA funding. The committee was created at the behest of residents who asked to have some sort of say in the process last year.
Committee members finished reviewing the applications earlier this year, but the Council had yet to review and discuss the recommendations, as of last week, frustrating some organizations and officials, including McCarthy, who has urged the Council to move the process forward.
But while Schenectady has yet to act on how to the spend the federal money, other municipalities have awarded millions in funding, including Albany, which awarded $25 million back in May to fund 35 projects, including those pertaining to housing, education and small-business support. Albany, which received over $80 million in ARPA funds, received 150 applications seeking funding, and each was reviewed by a committee similar to the one established in Schenectady.
Schenectady County has also started to award ARPA funding for various causes, including $1.5 million to the Empire Youth State Orchestra to support building renovations, and $1.8 million to purchase and donate the former YMCA center in Duanesburg, with plans to donate the facility to the Duanesburg Central School District, which hopes to turn the building into a community center.
The city has until Dec. 31, 2024 to allocate its ARPA funds, and must spend the money by Dec. 1, 2026.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.