SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council approved spending millions in federal coronavirus-relief money to fund 11 projects throughout the city on Monday, despite criticisms in recent days from some community leaders who have questioned how lawmakers arrived at their decision to allocate the funds.
In a 6-1 vote, lawmakers approved spending $14.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for a variety of projects, including $3.5 million for a new irrigation system at the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course and $1.25 million to reopen the shuttered Carver Community Center in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
Council Member John Polimeni was the lone dissenting vote.
Polimeni criticized the Council’s process of allocating the funds, calling it unfair and inequitable because lawmakers did not review the dozens of applications the city collected from community organizations seeking a portion of the funding last year at the same time, instead opting to fund certain projects.
The failure to take into consideration all the applications at once, he said, “cast a shadow” on organizations worthy of funding and pit community groups against one another.
“Applications that should have been considered were not,” he said. “That’s not fair. That’s not equitable.”
The city received $52.9 million in ARPA funds to help aid recovery efforts come out of the pandemic and, with Monday’s allocation, has just over $20 million in funds remaining. The money must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
At one point, Polimeni accused his colleagues of paying off their political supporters, and said the entire process was “messed up” and should be scrapped moving forward.
“If you got funded, great, most of you probably would have got funded anyway,” he said. “But you should be disappointed because others didn’t get the same consideration.”
Polimeni’s criticisms are similar to those leveled by several community leaders in recent days, who questioned how lawmakers arrived at their decision to allocate the funds, and raised concerns about a perceived lack of transparency around the allocation process.
Lawmakers did not publicly discuss, or make available for public view, any of the applications prior to deciding to allocate the funds. And recommendations from a citizen advisory committee, appointed earlier this year to review the applications at the behest of residents, were never made public or discussed, either.
Council Member Doreen Ditoro also criticized the process Monday, noting that each organization seeking funding was worthy and that lawmakers must be more transparent in their decision-making process moving forward.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the way things have been handled at this point,” she said.
Organizations that received funding on Monday included:
- $4.5 million for a new Central Park pool
- $2.5 million to fund the creation of the Capital Region Aquatic Center at Mohawk Harbor
- $1 million for the city and Duryee Foundation to operate a job-training facility in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood
- $950,000 to combat food insecurity that will be divided between the Schenectady Foundation, SUNY Schenectady and Schenectady Community Ministries
- $350,000 for the Schenectady Little League
- $343,882 to the Seat Center
- $172,073 for SAFE House
- $50,000 for the Schenectady Greenmarket to operate its food box program.
But there were few criticisms from residents on Monday.
A total of 20 people addressed the Council during the meeting’s public comment period, with a vast majority voicing support for the spending plan and praising the various organizations set to receive funds.
But handful of individuals questioned how a decision to allocate the funds was reached and said the Council should be considerate of all needs facing the community in order to address long-standing issues like poverty and food insecurity.
It’s unclear when the remainder of the ARPA funds will be allocated and how the Council will handle the process moving forward.
Several lawmakers, including Council President Marion Porterfield, have criticized the committee review process, admitting it did not work as intended. Others have said the process was mired in confusion.
But Porterfield pushed back on criticisms around transparency on Monday, saying lawmakers have been more inclusive in allocating the ARPA funds than they have been at any point prior.
“This was a new process, so it was a bumpy process,” she said. “Being inclusive in our decision-making was an ask from the community and we worked to make that happen.”
Others also pushed back on criticism, including Council Member Damonni Farley, who said lawmakers were equitable in their decision making.
He said some lawmakers are happy to pay “lip service” to equity and inclusion, but fail to follow through on the commitment when the time comes.
“This is not about process, it’s about privilege,” Farley said. “And there’s still money to be allocated. What’s happened historically did not happen this time. We didn’t tell people no, we just didn’t say you were first in line this time.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.