SCHENECTADY — With a City Council committee advancing a proposal to spend millions in federal coronavirus-relief funds earlier this week, questions remain about how exactly the money will be used.
The council’s Finance Committee on Monday agreed to allocate $14.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward 11 projects during an extended meeting that sparked confusion and left some community stakeholders questioning lawmakers’ commitment to transparency.
The full council is expected to vote on the spending plan — including money for a new Central Park pool and funds to reopen the shuttered Carver Community Center in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood — at its meeting next week.
Details about the various projects were not made available to the public prior to Monday’s meeting.
The city, last year, was awarded $52.9 million in funds under the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The law allocated billions to local governments to aid in recovery efforts associated with the pandemic. The funds were paid out in two separate tranches of $26.45 million.
Lawmakers, last year, collected more than 70 applications from community organizations seeking more than $70 million in combined funding — far more than what the city was allocated — to address a range of issues impacting the city, including food insecurity, housing and to create youth programming.
Earlier this year, the council appointed a citizen advisory committee to review the applications and make recommendations on what projects should be funded. The committee was created at the behest of neighborhood groups who asked for a say in how the funds should be spent during a series of information meetings last year.
Money under the law can be used to cover the cost of certain infrastructure projects, recoup lost revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers and address health concerns associated with the pandemic.
But the City Council never publicly discussed the dozens of applications or the recommendations made by the advisory committee prior to Monday’s meeting, sparking concerns about whether the community’s request for a say in the process were ever considered at all.
To date, city has allocated $16 million in ARPA funds, with a bulk of the money going towards job retention and reclaiming revenue lost during the pandemic. Minor allocations have also been approved to fund youth programs and to implement public safety protocols associated with the pandemic.
If the council approves the $14.6 million spending plan next week, it would represent the largest commitment of ARPA funds lawmakers have made at one time to date.
Here’s a closer look at each project slated to receive funding should the proposal be approved:
Central Park pool: $4.5 million.
The largest chunk of money council members agreed to allocate on Monday was $4.5 million for the construction of a new Central Park pool, which will be constructed in the area of the former tennis stadium torn down earlier this summer.
In December, council members approved using $450,000 in ARPA funds to design the new swimming facility, which will include a bathhouse, restrooms and connect to nearby amenities in the park.
The current pool no longer complies with state Department of Health standards and is frequently bombarded by droppings from geese that inhabit nearby Iroquois Lake.
Schenectady Municipal Golf Course irrigation system: $3.5 million.
For years, the city has sought to replace the municipal golf course’s antiquated irrigation system, which has been in operation long past its life expectancy.
With a $3.5 million allocation in ARPA funds, the city would replace the existing system, including the course’s pump house, with a modern system.
Lawmakers decided to move the project forward because the course is a revenue-generator for the city. Earlier this year, council members voted to increase greens fees for the course, putting the price to play in line with neighboring courses throughout the region.
Capital Region Aquatics Center: $2.5 million.
Plans to open an aquatic center at Mohawk Harbor have been in the works for years.
Developers behind the $35 million proposal for years have been working to secure funding to construct the 80,000-square-foot facility, which will include an Olympic sized swimming pool, several smaller pools and diving accessories.
The council’s $2.5 million commitment from the city is the latest in a series of funding allocations the project has received in recent years. Last year, the Schenectady County Legislature committed $5 million to the project.
Earlier this year, the project was awarded an additional $2.5 million in state aid, and developers at the time said the project was nearly two-thirds funded.
Once constructed, the center would provide opportunities for swim lessons and could host state and regional competitions, which officials view as an economic driver that would further bolster the city’s revitalization efforts.
Miracle on Craig Street Inc.: $1.25 million.
For years, Miracle On Craig Street, Inc., a grassroots nonprofit, has been working to reopen the shuttered Carver Community Center in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood. The facility closed in 2013 amid financial straits.
Efforts to reopen the facility began in 2015, when the city sought to auction the building to no avail and a small group of organizers sought to raise funds and purchase the facility at the last minute. Four years later, the group was able to broker a deal in which the city turned over the property and the group returned the center to operation.
But securing funding for the project has been an obstacle in the years since, and the pandemic has slowed the building’s rehabilitation even further.
The city allocated $150,000 for the project, and volunteers have been working to gut and rehab the facility where possible. The group is currently in the process of trying to determine a final cost estimate to restore the building.
The city’s additional $1.25 million allocation is contingent on organizers securing enough funding to finish rehabbing the building.
Empowerment Center: $1.075 million.
Funding for this project would be divided between the city and the Duryee Community Foundation, a local nonprofit that works to provide training and services to help families in the city become self-sufficient.
As part of the project, the city’s Affirmative Action Office will receive $875,000 to rehab 818 Albany St. into the Schenectady Empowerment Center, which will host job training, provide assistance for job training and act as a hub for community engagement.
The Duryee Foundation will receive $285,000 to bolster programming that will be hosted at the center.
Food insecurity: $950,000.
A longstanding issue facing city residents, lawmakers on Monday agreed to use $950,000 in ARPA funding to combat food insecurity.
The funds will be divided between four organizations: The Schenectady Foundation, Schenectady Community Ministries, SUNY Schenectady and the nonprofit Concerned for the Hungry, to strategically address food insecurity.
The organizations will be tasked with working together to come up with a plan on how best to use the funding.
Schenectady Little League: $350,000
Funding would be used to rehab the city’s Little League fields along Oregon and Michigan avenues.
The proposal includes replacing or upgrading existing infrastructure, including fencing, dugouts and restrooms.
SEAT Center: $343,882
A local nonprofit, the SEAT Center works to connect young adults to job training. The funds will be used to further support the programming moving forward.
Safe Inc. Schenectady: $172,073
Safe Inc. of Schenectady is a nonprofit working to end youth homelessness and sexual exploitation.
As part of its work, the organization operates the Safe House, an emergency shelter that caters to runaway youth between the ages of 16 and 20. The shelter provides medical services, vocational training, housing assistance and crisis intervention.
Funds would be used to expand existing programming.
Schenectady Greenmarket: $50,000.
Funding would be used to expand the Greenmarket’s food-box program.
Rolled out earlier this year thanks to a grant from the Schenectady Foundation, the program provides low-income individuals access to affordable produce and serves 50 people each week, with half of those served by delivery.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.