Jacksonville aldermen face a number of questions on how they will spend $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act money over the next 2 ½ years.
Morgan County Emergency Management Coordinator Phil McCarty explained to the council during workshop session that he and City Treasurer Beth Hopkins solicited projects from all of the city’s department heads over the last several months, dividing the projects in several different buckets relating to public safety, infrastructure, utilities, recreation, among others. McCarty says in total that he had received approximately $8 million worth of projects the money could be used in accordance with the rules finalized by the U.S. Department of Treasury in April.
Mayor Andy Ezard says some decisions will have to be made on which projects will get funding from the ARPA dollars: “I think in the end, it’s going to help our community whatever we choose to do. The bottom line is it’s $2.5 million, which doesn’t come out of our [property] taxes and the general fund of the city. There are going to be appropriate projects that will be funded once we kind of go through them. We just accepted one tonight, a water and sewer utility project which helps out the bottom line of the taxpayer and utility rates. I think there is a lot more discussion that needs to be made. I hear frequently that the needs are infrastructure, sidewalks, streets; but then I hear about Nichols Park pool. The pool is already a part of one thing that the council has already voted on accepting a grant. If we need to kick in more money towards that, we can make the Nichols Park swimming pool really relevant. It’s used a lot by many in the community. But, there’s no bad project in these proposals.”
Ezard says more discussions and committee meetings will be held to finalize where the money is going. The city council did approve an alternate bid on a recent water main replacement project for Morton Avenue and Finley Street that will now add in Prospect Street to the project for an additional $170,000 paid for through the ARPA Funding. Utility Superintendent Ricky Hearin says that the main services residences between College Avenue and State Street. Hearin says that the residences have issues with low water pressure problems.
Another suggestion for ARPA money was to help fund the New Directions homeless shelter. Ward 1 Alderwoman Eren White-Williams says the Special Studies Committee came to a consensus on how the city should proceed in helping the shelter stay open: “Our committee wants to help. We are actually wanting New Directions to do more things to try and get more money for themselves. We have recommended to the city council to approve, starting in August, $10,000 a month for 3 months. Then, revisit it and see if New Directions has gotten themselves any help, what they are going to do to raise funds, any grants they are working on, etc. We’ll revisit it in 3-4 months and see where things are.”
The Special Studies Committee held an hour and a half long meeting prior to the city’s workshop session. The committee heard from workers at the shelter, stakeholders, and even current homeless community members staying at the shelter. Consensus at the meeting was to approach the Morgan County Commissioners and the other municipalities about also contributing to the shelter since homelessness is viewed as a county-wide problem.
The resolution of the shelter funding will be introduced to the City Council at the next city meeting on June 27th.