Allentown still has nearly half of his $ 57 million in U.S. bailout plan, and Mayor Matt Turk has a new plan for how the city will use that money.
The city will create a “pool” of $ 18 million for local businesses and nonprofits: $ 16 million of this will go to “negative economic impacts” and $ 2 million to health initiatives.
This money can go to a wide range of projects. But U.S. Treasury guidelines stipulate that ARPA spending on public health or adverse economic impacts, in most cases, should specifically address the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city has already spent about $ 20 million on infrastructure and about $ 9 million on revenue replacement projects.
Here’s everything you need to know about the city’s plans to spend aid dollars.
Turk has made some changes to previously planned spending under former mayor Ray O’Connell.
In December, the city council approved a number of capital expenditures demanded by O’Connell, including storm sewer improvements, plumbing replacement, and funding for a backup data center. Turk will not change the already approved articles, but the city is changing the rest of the costs planned by O’Connell.
O’Connell originally offered $ 2.5 million for local nonprofits and planned to donate $ 1 million to the IronPigs lower league baseball team and $ 2 million to the Da Vinci Science Center.
Following the rejection of community activists who said they lacked money for simple nonprofits, O’Connell agreed to provide $ 4 million for local nonprofits, $ 4.7 million for housing assistance, $ 3 million for tourism organizations, and $ 3 million for helping small businesses.
Turk will give businesses and nonprofits even more. But instead of determining exactly where the money will go, all businesses and nonprofits are eligible to apply from the same $ 18 million pool. The application process will reflect the process of applying for a government grant or a grant through a congressional or senator’s office.
However, the city cancels a plan announced in October to study a citywide broadband program. Last year, Allentown officials announced $ 6 million to launch a city-funded broadband program and planned to work with Allentown-based Iota Communications to conduct a feasibility study.
Turk said the October statement was “premature” and that the city does not want to spend ARPA money on broadband because there are already many other federal-funded broadband programs.
“It would be irresponsible for us to allocate SLRF or ARPA funds that we could fund with many other funds,” Turk said.
The city is still committed to implementing some revenue replacement projects, a comprehensive deadline for improvements and initiatives funded by the city, and the remaining approximately $ 10 million is allocated for this purpose. The city has already used part of this to fund a backup data center, roof replacement and a new fire academy building.
He is considering more projects such as beautifying a city park, renovating a police academy building or a city public building, Turk said.
The city has already spent its $ 20 million on infrastructure projects, including water and sewer replacement, and currently has no plans to spend more on infrastructure, Turk said.
Nonprofits and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for the money. Organizations will need to contact the city with a detailed description of the potential project as it will combat the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the budget breakdown.
Projects can range from combating gun violence to affordable housing and mental health services, but for the most part, they need to address the negative effects of COVID-19. They cannot be completely unrelated to a pandemic – for example, an organization cannot apply for funding for a standard workforce development program.
Projects will be evaluated according to their needs, according to the appropriate use of money, the ability to lead to quantitative results and the ability of staff to accept the project. The application section is available on the city website.
Although the opportunities for ARPA-funded projects are wide, Turk has some features in mind. He is looking for proposals of about $ 100,000 to $ 1 million and wants to see projects in which the city is not the only funding organization, like some state or federal grant programs.
“We cannot be the only source of funding for these projects,” Turk said. “It’s the kind of project we’re looking for, something that other money has to do with.”
He wants to see affordable housing projects because of the high demand for housing in the city and rising rents in the region. Monthly rental price of a one-bedroom apartment in Allentown this year soared to $ 1,837, up 38% from last year.
According to Turk, ARPA money can be used to rehabilitate buildings or build affordable housing.
“We know that there is a housing crisis in the Lichai Valley, and it is acute in the city of Allentown,” said Turk. “Projects that serve the needs of our community, especially our communities most affected by COVID, are the most desired, and there are many.”
Turk said the proposal from Housing Alentovna is an example of the project that the city wants to see. In February, authorities requested $ 2.7 million from ARPA to help fund the $ 26 million renovation of Little Lehigh’s public housing, built in the early 1970s.
The city council postponed voting on the application because members felt there was not enough of a formal application process at the time.
The board has also applied for $ 1.5 million from Lehigh Valley IronPigs, which will go to improving the stadium required by the major baseball league, for the same reason.
The city is evaluating projects on an ongoing basis, Turk said. An evaluation committee of city officials will evaluate projects under the heading and then pass on its recommendation to the city council, which will have a final vote.
Non-profit organizations or businesses interested in applying for funding may contact Turkic Executive Secretary Conor Corpor at Connor.Corpora@allentownpa.gov. The city plans to start advertising the application process on social media, Turk said.
City Council member Se-Se Gerlach still believes the process is not strategic enough. Instead of evaluating projects on an ongoing basis, the city had to develop a specific targeted strategy on how it would spend the extra money, she said.
“I do not think it is best practice to support each other in parts of the budget, if the administration receives one proposal and another, if we do not know whether these proposals apply,” said Gerlach. “I don’t think it’s wise to spend $ 1 million here, $ 2 million there, $ 5 million there, not knowing what the full amount is and not having a really comprehensive idea.”
She wants the city to take a focused approach to meeting the needs of the residents of Alentovna who have suffered the most from COVID. Studies show that the pandemic has exacerbated racial inequality in education, health and the economy.
Turk said approval of applications on an ongoing basis gives the city increased flexibility. He said the city needs to allocate funds by 2024 and wants to start funding projects as soon as possible. He added that Vision 2030, a series of progressive policy proposals approved by the city council in 2019, will act as a guideline for how money can be spent.
“Part of the council Gerlach wanted to see a tough plan in which everything was laid in stone, and I think we better if we can be flexible,” Turk said.
City activists, who lobbied the administration last year for more money for nonprofits and small businesses, are pleased to see that more has been allocated for this purpose.
Kim Schaefer, executive director of Community Bike Works, said her non-profit organization “appreciates[s] [Allentown’s] a commitment to support local nonprofits that work on the ground to support children and families in need. ”
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Don Godshall, director of Community Action Lehigh Valley (formerly the Lehigh Valley Community Action Committee), hopes to collaborate with the city on affordable housing projects and a new community center for Allentown youth for money from the U.S. Rescue Plan. But she wants non-profit organizations to have even more money available to fully fund projects.
“The mayor is taking this opportunity to change and fix a lot of things that need to be addressed for the city, and I understand that,” Godshall said. “I just feel like it has given a lot of nonprofits a little bit of false hope that there will be more affordable things that we as nonprofits think are important to people in the community, not necessarily to the aesthetics of the community.”
Justan Parker Fields, executive director of the local nonprofit Change Now, was also pleased to see an increase in the amount of funds available to public nonprofits. But he worried that allowing the city council to have the final say on ARPA funding could spark a conflict of interest. Several board members are on the boards of nonprofits, work for nonprofits, or are affiliated with nonprofit leaders.
“I think the city council has too many conflicts to make these decisions,” Parker Fields said. “I am glad that the funding is there, and I really believe in the administration of the mayor of Turk, but I am a little worried that the city council will vote on this issue” yes “or” no “.
In February, the Council adopted two resolutions aimed at limiting conflicts of interest related to ARPA funding. Board members are required to disclose any conversations they have with nonprofit leaders about American rescue plan money. Leaders of nonprofits that claim to receive American Rescue plan money are also prohibited from using that money to pay their own wages or the salaries of family members.
The city’s code of ethics prohibits elected officials from acting “in an official capacity on matters in which an employee or official has private financial means, in matters in which an employee or official has private financial interests that are clearly different from the interests of the general public.”
Lindsey Weber, a reporter for the morning call, can be reached at 610-820-6681 and firstname.lastname@example.org.