Schenectady set to allocate $11 million in ARPA funds


SCHENECTADY — After a Schenectady City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to allocate a majority of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds, questions remain on what the process will look like moving forward — including whether organizations will be able to submit additional proposals for funding as originally discussed.

The Finance Committee agreed to allocate $11.3 million to fund 23 projects throughout the city, including park upgrades, housing initiatives and proposals submitted by nonprofit organizations to combat homelessness and bolster youth programming, among other things.

The full council will vote on the spending plan at its meeting next week. If approved, the city would be left with around $9.8 million in ARPA funds left to allocate from its initial $52.9 million windfall.

“I think we had some good recommendations for funding here,” Council President Marion Porterfield said.

Lawmakers, in recent weeks, have faced criticism for their handling of the ARPA funds after agreeing to allocate $14.6 million last month towards 11 projects without publicly discussing the dozens of applications submitted by organizations last year seeking a portion of the funding, or the recommendations made by a citizen advisory committee appointed to review the proposals.

Documents pertaining to the various applications were also not made public prior to lawmakers reaching their decision.

Several council members have also criticized the process, including Council President Marion Porterfield, who admitted that the review process did not work as intended and should be tweaked moving forward.

On Tuesday, documents containing a brief description for each application were available, but, in most cases, there was little discussion around the projects that were awarded funding. Instead, lawmakers rattled off recommendations, which were ultimately approved by the Finance Committee.

Among the projects slated to receive funding including, $3.5 million for park upgrades, including $500,000 for Jerry Burrell Park; $750,000 for upgrades at Hillhurst Park, including pool repairs and new play courts; $500,000 to upgrade the Central Park tennis courts; $250,000 to upgrade the courts at Riverside Park in the Stockade; $500,000 for lighting at the A Diamond in Central Park; and an additional $1 million for Central Park for improvements around the new swimming pool.

Other projects slated to receive funding include:

  • $1.75 million for Better Community Neighborhoods, Inc., including $250,000 to bolster the organization’s foreclosure prevention fund, $500,000 for the Hamilton Hill infill project, and $1 million owner occupied home repair program. The funds are contingent on the organization forming a community benefit program with the city’s affirmative action office.
  • $1.2 million for the Hamilton Hill Arts Center towards the creation of a new building. The funding is contingent on the organization raising additional funds needed to finish the project.
  • $1 million towards the construction for the Electric City Food Co-op.
  • $750,000 for the Stockade Association to revitalize to abandoned pump station. The funding is contingent on the organization raising additional funds for the project.
  • $750,00 for the YWCA towards the creation of shelter for survivors of domestic violence, with funding contingent on the organization raising the additional funds needed to move the project forward. The organization was also allocated an additional $364,449 for capital improvements.
  • $500,000 for COCOA House to expand the Hamilton Hill Learning Center. The funds are contingent on the organization raising additional funds to finish the project.
  • $500,000 for Habitat for Humanity to help fund future housing projects.
  • $352,000 for upgrades to the HVAC system at City Hall.
  • $331,408 for the Boys & Girls Club to purchase a full-scale 500 kilowatt generator to operate the Adeline Wright Graham center as an emergency center in case of a disaster.
  • $200,000 for Bethesda House of Schenectady, Inc to go towards the construction of supportive housing. The funding is contingent on the organization raising additional funds for the project.
  • $100,000 for the Schenectady Community Action Program for homeless support.
  • $76,000 for Proctors Theatre for safety upgrades.
  • $10,000 for the Schenectady Kiwanis Club for the organization’s picnic table project.

A timeline for when the council will allocate the remaining funds is unclear, as is the process that will be used moving forward. The funds, under federal guidelines, must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Last year, lawmakers discussed collecting funding applications in two rounds — one for each tranche of ARPA funding the city received. The funds were paid out by the federal government in two equal tranches of $26.4 million.

The idea was discussed in numerous follow-up discussions by lawmakers in the months that followed. 

The first round of applications were collected last December, garnering 70 applicants seeking a combined $78 million in funding. The applicants were seeking a portion of the $11 million in ARPA funds the city had yet to spend from its initial tranche of funding after allocation money to recoup lost revenue and bolster its workforce.

Once the initial tranche of funds were depleted, lawmakers agreed that the city would begin accepting a second round of applications.

It was determined that applications would be collected through the city’s website, which also indicates that a second round of applications would be accepted at a later date.

The tentative deadline for this initial round of applications is December 31, 2021,” the website reads. 

But on Tuesday, several lawmakers, including Doreen Ditoro and John Polimeni, said they were against collecting additional applications from organizations seeking ARPA funds due to the volume of applications collected previously and a number of outstanding infrastructure projects they would like to see move forward using the funds.

“We can’t take care of what we have right here in front of us, let alone a second round,” Ditoro said.

Polimeni said the council never agreed to accept two rounds of applications. The idea, he said, was discussed, but a formal vote was never held.

“There were a couple of individuals on the council who wanted that, but it was not set,” he said.

Lawmakers never formally voted to accept applications during the first round, instead agreeing to the process during committee meetings.

But several council members, including Porterfield, Damonni Farley and Carl Williams, pushed back, arguing that people in the community were under the impression they would be able to submit an application for consideration at a later date and that the council must stand by what was previously discussed.

“We were really clear with the community that we were not going to make these decisions for them, we were going to make these decisions with them. If we give people another opportunity to advocate for projects and things that they think are important in the community, I think that we are always going to be a better, more participatory government by doing so,” Farley said.

Porterfield said she has heard from community members who said they were looking to submit an ARPA applications as recently as this past weekend, and that the council should work to find a way to allow additional applicants moving forward. 

“People are under that impression, so I think that we should figure out how we can somehow do this without it being as long a process as the first time,” she said. 

Polimeni, meanwhile, argued that the council should seek to leverage the remaining ARPA money to help fund city projects, including park upgrades and infrastructure repairs. Doing so, he said, will benefit all residents and would save taxpayers money because the upgrades would otherwise need to be bonded and paid off later with interest. 

“We aren’t leveraging our money at all. We have time, so get the things We’re not thinking down the road,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we use one-time money that’s going to set the city up for a long-term impact? We don’t need to spend the remainder of this money right this minute.”

It’s unclear how the council will proceed.

Carmel Patrick, who was not in attendance Tuesday, has said previously that the council should allocate the remaining funds without collecting any additional applications, while John Mootooveren said he is still on the fence. 

“I need some more time to process in terms of what we should do,” Mootooveren said.

Farley, meanwhile, added that the council has an obligation to the community and that lawmakers should be prepared if they are not going to follow through on the promise. 

“I want all my colleagues to be prepared to answer to all the voices in the community who were under the expectation that they would have an opportunity to apply for this funding,” Farley said.

The council is expected to revisit the subject again at its next committee meeting in two weeks. 

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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