SCHENECTADY — Lawmakers on Monday agreed to hold off on allocating any additional American Rescue Plan Act funding until the city can further examine the dozens of projects that have been awarded funds in recent weeks.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, during a meeting of the council’s Finance Committee, asked lawmakers to hold off on allocating any of the $9.8 million in remaining ARPA funds until the city can further evaluate the nearly three dozen projects that were awarded funding in the last month, adding that he is “skeptical” of the cost estimates organizations have provided to the city for the various projects.
“What I want is some time to be able to evaluate those projects so that we have better cost estimates to make sure what the council has done so far around to be successful and we’re going to be able to complete them,” he said.
The council allocated just over $26 million in ARPA funding towards 34 projects throughout the city in recent weeks, including money for park upgrades, youth services and towards various projects submitted by local nonprofit organizations to address issues ranging from food insecurity to youth homelessness.
But there has been little public discussion around the individual proposals, which the city collected through a grant application process last year, when conversations around distributing ARPA funding began. Dozens of applications were submitted totaling more than $76 million in combined funding requests.
The city received a total of $52.9 million in ARPA funding, which until recently, has been used primarily to recoup lost revenue and fill vacant positions for various departments. The money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
Lawmakers have yet to publicly discuss all of the applications, even after community leaders criticized the process of doling out funds for lacking transparency, and raised concerns that the recommendations made by a citizen advisory committee appointed earlier this year to steer the conversation around the funding were not taken into consideration.
Council members instead have made individual suggestions about projects they would like to see funded, a move widely criticized by Councilman John Polimeni, who has accused his colleagues of funding political allies instead of leveraging the funds to address long standing issues around city infrastructure.
All applications were reviewed by the city’s planning department, but many of the proposals have been in the works for years and do not account for recent cost increases brought on by inflation.
McCarthy said the city is in the process of developing contracts for the various projects, many of which will include contingencies approved by the council requiring organizations to raise additional funding before any of the ARPA money is awarded.
He added that there is no clear timeline on when contracts will be executed or how long the cost analysis will take to complete, but noted he will provide regular updates as progress is made. The goal, the mayor said, is to ensure all projects that have been awarded funding are feasible.
“I don’t know how much longer, but before we go off and start talking about spending other money, I want to make sure we have money to complete what we started and then be able to use that money in a manner that will best leverage the resources within the community,” McCarthy said.
It’s unclear how the council will handle the ARPA process moving forward and exactly how much money will be left to allocate when discussions start up again.
The city currently has just under $10 million left to allocate, but its possible that some projects could receive additional funding based on the cost analysis.
It’s also possible that some organizations will be unable to meet the contingencies placed on the funding, giving lawmakers an opportunity to revise the contract or reallocate the funds to a different organization.
But it does appear, however, that the city will not be accepting any additional applications from organizations seeking ARPA funding as originally discussed last year.
Council President Marion Porterfield and members Carl Williams and Damonni Farley have said they would like to collect an additional round of applications, noting that many organizations were under the impression they would have an opportunity to apply at a later date. The city’s website also indicates that there would be an additional round of applications.
“It’s something we said we were going to do, and it’s something that if we have the capacity to do it, we should do it,” Farley said.
But a majority of lawmakers, including Polimeni, Carmel Patrick, Doreen Ditoro and John Mootooveren, have all said they have no desire to collect additional applications and that the remaining funds should be spent on city projects or be awarded to organizations that have previously submitted an application.
“We have many applications here, let’s look at the applications on hand. Let’s try to keep much of the remaining funding within the city,” Mootooveren said. “I think that will help us with the budget over the next couple of years.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.