The Columbia City Council finally provided some clarity Monday as to how use of the American Rescue Plan Act funding will be determined.
The issue has dominated weeks of public hearings and council deliberations on the FY2022 budget. The council approved the budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 on a voice vote during Monday’s meeting.
Mayor Brian Treece said there is general consensus among council members that they would have some sort of public hearings to deliberate how to spend the ARPA funds. The funds were not part of the budget passed Monday.
Second Ward Councilperson Andrea Waner and Third Ward Councilperson Karl Skala agreed, with Skala emphasizing that the $12.5 million that the city has already received is in the bank and isn’t going anywhere.
The city will receive the same amount again next year, and it all must be spent within four years. Skala said he wants to discuss the funding at the council’s Oct. 4 meeting.
Fourth Ward Councilperson Ian Thomas, however, proposed that the city allocate funds now for at least two big projects: an opportunity center that would provide homeless services and a 24/7 behavioral health services clinic, noting an urgent need for these services.
A longer process could be started at the same time to engage the community and receive input on how the remainder of the funds be spent, he suggested.
“My preferred process would be the kind of engaged community process that really elevates those stories from people who have suffered most through the pandemic and were suffering most before the pandemic, which is what the purpose of the federal program is,” Thomas said.
Treece noted that when a motion to determine the distribution of the funds is adopted, it will launch a series of formal public hearings. However, Thomas said he’s hopeful that separate from that, there will be an “overarching high-level community engagement process for at least some of the funds, one that is responsive to the calls that we’ve heard from so many members of the community.”
Several of those community members spoke Monday night, offering suggestions to the council on how to spend the ARPA funds. Some expressed relief that the council still plans to consider a process for allocation.
Debby Graham, Room at the Inn director, spoke on the desperate need for a permanent homeless shelter.
“I would just encourage all of you to consider, if it’s possible, to release funding for the planning and development of a permanent home for Room at the Inn, Turning Point, and any other agencies that would like to join us in the opportunity center,” she said. “Room at the Inn is a homeless shelter that doesn’t have a home.”
Fowler said there is a sum of money in the budget for a winter shelter that is being held until a planning process occurs.
In action, Fowler moved to add to the FY22 budget an item that would implement a recommendation from the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to more closely monitor and reduce climate change in the community.
“It feels like we have fallen short in moving (the Climate Action and Adaption Plan) along,” Fowler said. “I would like to see us move more deliberatively with the amount of funding that plan and those implementation items require.”
Her motion passed with only Treece dissenting.
Hope Davis contributed to this report.