picture by: Photo by Eric Ayres
WHEELING – From infrastructure projects to more options for child care, proposals on how to spend more than $26 million in federal pandemic relief funds from the US bailout covered a full range of options Monday evening.
The City of Wheeling held its first of what promises to be a handful of public work sessions aimed at sharing ideas on how to spend ARP funds over the next two years. City leaders encourage the public to submit proposals that meet federal guidelines on how these funds can be spent, and there are specific parameters that must be met.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott added that the funds must be spent over the next two years or any unspent portions will likely go to Uncle Sam.
“It’s a pretty big amount of money,” Elliott said. “It will be up to us to allocate everything by the end of December 2024. The law says that if the funds are not committed by December 31, 2024, the city will lose the funds.
“So if it looks like we’re spending a lot of money fast, it’s because if we don’t, we’re going to lose it. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s going to be a challenge.
The city’s total allocation of more than $29 million through the ARP’s State and Local Fiscal Stimulus Fund program was split into two payments — one of which was received l year and the next one is expected in May. The city has already spent some of the money – like the outdoor dining program, with around $26 million remaining in the pot.
At Monday evening’s meeting, each member of City Council took the floor, sharing a summary of their thoughts on projects for which ARP funding could be used. Several members of the public who had already submitted proposals to the city – mostly representatives of local agencies and organizations – were also on hand to present their ideas.
“We’re basically accepting proposals until the end of April,” the mayor said. “If you haven’t submitted any proposals yet, you still have time.”
Officials urged those wishing to submit a proposal to read the guidelines carefully and ensure the idea fits within federal parameters for spending CRA funds. The city’s website has links to the online survey for submitting proposals and a link to the US Treasury Department guidelines for relief funds.
Elliott noted that there was a lot more flexibility in spending funds in what were considered “qualified census tracts,” or areas that have already been pre-determined to meet spending guidelines. Low-income areas would fall into qualified census tracts. While the funds are to be used in areas affected by the pandemic, qualifying census areas are presumed to have been affected, officials said.
Representatives from Wheeling Heritage, Wheeling Park Commission, Grow Ohio Valley, Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley, Friends of Wheeling, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Wheeling, Ohio Valley Trail Partners and other entities spoke at the meeting, presenting ideas on how the money could be spent.
A common theme that came up time and time again among board members and organizational leaders was that priority projects should be those that are “economic multipliers” – those that are forward-looking and will get the most their money.
“If you want that $29 million to really have an impact, you want to do it on investments that will pay dividends in the future,” Elliott noted.
“We can pave a road that serves 10 people, which would change the lives of those 10 people, which is great,” Councilor Rosemary Ketchum said. “Or we could fund projects that serve hundreds of people with these funds. From my point of view, if we really want to “multiply” our impact, we need to ensure that we serve a wide range of people rather than a handful.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman added, “We can spend $1 million tomorrow on demolition, and we’ll still have buildings that are dilapidated and need to be demolished. We can spend $5 million on paving, and we’ll still have streets and alleys to pave. We can spend all of the $29 million on underground infrastructure, and we still won’t take care of all of our underground infrastructure that needs attention.
Thalman said the city should focus on needed projects in the city that no one else is going to tackle or fund.
City leaders agreed that infrastructure projects, paving laneways, razing dilapidated structures, investing in recreational facilities and cleaning up neighborhoods should be high on the priority list. Officials noted that some infrastructure projects already planned for the future could be funded with ARP money, and planned rate hikes needed to support future projects could be delayed, resulting in savings for many concerned citizens.
Another big topic was child care needs – an eligible expense and an issue that has become a serious issue as a result of the pandemic.
“As the father of a 4-year-old, I have seen how difficult it is to find good, safe child care,” said Councilor Ty Thorngate.
“Our waiting list is 185 people right now,” said Tara Crews, executive director of the Holy Family Child Care and Developmental Center, who spoke about her passion project to develop a “crisis nursery” and offer extended hours for current child care services, including pre-care and post-care services. “The average waiting list in the county is about 170 names.”
Bob Peckenpaugh, chairman and CEO of the Wheeling Park Commission, said Oglebay Resort – a financial engine when it comes to the economic outcome of Wheeling Park and Oglebay Park – suffered a $6. $5 million as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the economic impact of an operation like Oglebay is also important in this discussion,” Peckenpaugh said, noting that the resort’s guests spend money in the city and the resort also generates tax revenue. on the beds for the city. “Any growth that we have in the hospitality sector of the business comes back to the community in this way.”
Supporting organizations that provide a catalyst for tourism dollars was seen by many as one of the “economic multipliers” where ARP funds could be invested.
Betsy Sweeny of Wheeling Heritage said another way to invest in the community would be to provide property rehabilitation funds to help private property owners rehabilitate aging structures in the city. The costs of building code-compliant life-safety features in structures such as fire escapes, elevators, ADA housing, and other features can often prevent potential developers from renovating beyond the first floors of buildings. buildings, she noted.
City officials should discuss consensus proposals and present universally supported ideas to city council for a vote in the future. Any ARP fund project that goes ahead should receive two readings and a vote in city council.