YOUNGSTOWN — For the first time since City Council gave its members control of more than $14 million of Youngstown’s U.S. bailout funds — $2 million per member — the legislature will vote on four bills on Wednesday bill to spend $684,685 of that amount.
Council members say this is just the start of spending the $14 million in ARP funds they voted on April 6 to control.
“We’ve been excited to get that money out into the community,” said Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward.
Board members are expected to discuss the proposals at today’s finance committee meeting.
Oliver’s request for $300,000 is the highest amount of ARP funding the board will consider on Wednesday. The proceeds would go toward small business relief grants for the east end of Federal Street, where Youngstown Flea, Penguin City Brewing Co. and DOPE Cider House & Winery operate, he said.
“It’s for existing businesses and a few other entities for sprucing up,” Oliver said. “It has taken too long to help businesses that have made significant investments in the downtown east side. We are developing east of downtown.
By next month, Oliver plans to seek funding for an entrepreneurship center, built from two large shipping containers, near the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown to teach young people business skills.
He also said he plans to use most of his neighborhood’s $2 million allocation for neighborhood improvements.
Overall, the city has received $82,775,370 in ARP funding and has allocated approximately half of that to date.
The two largest amounts set aside by the council are $14 million it gave to its members and $10.5 million for parks and recreation projects. The latter was approved on July 27 by the council. The Council will vote on Wednesday for the first time to spend the money from these two big pots of money.
Councilman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, is seeking to spend $160,000 in ARP money to buy the old McDonald’s at 2525 Market St., which closed in December 2017, to convert it into a police station and community center.
The amount does not include necessary improvements to the building.
Davis said she wants the police department to bring back auxiliary and reserve officers and have them work out of the building, as well as a place for full-time officers when handling cases nearby, as well as the neighborhood community police officer to use when needed.
“There’s going to be a police presence there,” she said. “I want people to know they’re safe on Market Street.”
One of four planned community health workers the city plans to hire with ARP money could use the building as an office, and community groups can use the space as a meeting area, Davis said.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said it was important to reopen a long-vacant property in a “prime location” in the city.
“We want to get this building back in service,” he said. “We wanted to secure the location.
Councilman Basia Adamczak, D-7th Ward, is requesting $130,685 from her ward’s ARP funding for Lynn Park improvements.
In addition to that, the council will consider $300,000 of the $10.5 million set aside for parks and recreation projects at the same location. This is the first application for this $10.5 million allocation.
The $300,000 is for new playground equipment, a new roof over the pavilion and washrooms, new fencing and the redesign of the walking path that was included in the parks and recreation projects plan, Adamczak said.
The additional $130,685 is for exercise equipment, she said.
“It’s good to spend some of the $2 million,” Adamczak said. “At the next meeting in September, I will request a designated ambassador for code enforcement in the 7th Ward.”
The cost of that code-enforcement ambassador would be about $50,000 a year for at least two years, she said. The person would answer questions about code enforcement and inventory the entire department for code enforcement issues, Adamczak said.
Councilman Lauren McNally, D-5th Ward, is requesting $94,000 in ARP funding for emergency home repairs and a roof replacement project for low-income residents in her neighborhood.
Brown said the administration will review all of the council’s ARP requests to ensure they comply with federal laws.
“It’s checks and balances,” he said.
The city council will also consider a 41.3% raise on Wednesday for Michael Durkin, the superintendent of burn code enforcement and remediation.
The administration’s demand is that Durkin’s annual salary be increased from $55,769 to $78,827.
“It’s a big increase, but there’s a big disparity,” Brown said. “It’s similar to what other department heads are paid. He was terribly underpaid. There are savings in his department that will pay for the raise.
Adamczak and Oliver said they support Durkin’s pay raise.
“He extremely deserves it,” Adamczak said. “He does the work of a lot of people. I have no reservations about this.
Oliver said Durkin “absolutely deserves it. He’s one of the best department heads we have.
Davis said she needs to discuss the legislation before making a decision. But, she said, Durkin “does an awful lot, more than people realize.”
The legislature will also vote on Wednesday to forward to the Mahoning County Board of Elections a charter amendment for the Nov. 8 ballot from citizens asking voters to restore term limits for city council members.
Council members vote as a formality to approve citizens’ initiatives that qualify to be on the ballot like this one does even if they disagree with them, as in this case. There is no provision in the city charter requiring council to vote on approving initiatives.
If approved by voters, the proposal would limit council members to serving two consecutive four-year terms and be eligible for election after an intermediate term, beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
The City Council, Council President, and Mayor had two four-year, voter-approved term limits in the late 1980s with the ability to run again after being absent for an intervening term.
Voters eliminated term limits for the mayor in a November 6, 2012 vote, with 61.87 percent supporting removal. This proposal was recommended to council by a charter review panel.
In the November 6, 2018 election, voters agreed to eliminate term limits for council members with 51.05% support and for the council chair with 51.98% of voters supporting him. The putting of these two items on the ballot that year was initiated by the city council.
The return of term limits for the mayor and council president is planned by organizers of the council effort for the 2023 elections.